Court Won't Allow New Trial for Ex-Priest

By Michelle Millhollon
Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
May 16, 1999

An appeals court refused Friday to grant a new trial to a former Catholic priest convicted of raping an altar boy.

The Rev. Robert Lester Melancon was convicted of aggravated rape in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison.

A former altar boy testified that he was molested and repeatedly raped by the priest at Annunziata Catholic Church in Houma beginning when he was 8 years old.

The jury voted 11-1 to convict Melancon.

Defense attorneys appealed the conviction, saying the trial should have been moved out of Houma because of heavy media coverage. The trial judge closed jury selection but refused to grant a change of venue.

The defense also claimed the judge should have declared a mistrial after another former altar boy testified Melancon showed him adult movies and performed oral sex on him.

Witnesses were only supposed to testify about alleged acts that were the same as those committed on the rape victim. None of the victim's allegations involved adult movies or oral sex. But the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal rejected those arguments.

The three-judge panel said the publicity surrounding the case did not jeopardize justice.

"Almost every (juror) with knowledge of the case stated he or she had no opinion on the defendant's guilt or innocence," the appeals court said.

The court said the testimony by the second altar boy was permissible because it showed Melancon's "lustful disposition.The evidence was admitted to show that the defendant had a system of past deviant behavior with juvenile boys, not to prove that he committed the instant crime because he committed other crimes in the past," the court wrote in its decision.

First Circuit Court Judge Kenneth J. Fogg, who wrote the opinion, was joined by Judge Daniel W. LeBlanc and James Edward KuhnMelancon's attorneys could not be reached for comment Saturday.


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