Appeal filed in decades old case

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By Calen McKinney

A Campbellsville man accused of beating another man and placing him inside a car trunk with a turtle has filed an appeal of his 50-year prison sentence.

Rex Melton, now 41, was found guilty by a Taylor County grand jury nearly 20 years ago of first-degree assault, first-degree arson and complicity.

According to a February 1990 News-Journal story, Melton and Campbellsville native Richard D. Johnson, now 38, were accused of beating Kirk Nash in September 1989.

During Melton's trial, the story states, attorneys said Melton, then 23, and Johnson, then 19, said they hit Nash with a bumper jack and thought they had killed him.

Witnesses testified that the two said they were going to put Nash in the trunk of his mother's car after beating him and burn it. Nash was later found barely breathing with several cuts on his head.

The story states that witnesses testified that Nash was found with his head on top of the turtle, which was about 10 inches in diameter.

Melton and Johnson both testified that they did not hit Nash and blamed each other for the crimes. Other testimony stated that the two had been drinking and driving around Taylor County. Johnson also testified that Melton attempted to have sex with Nash.

The News-Journal story about Melton's trial states that the jury - which consisted of 11 men and one woman - deliberated for an hour and 40 minutes before finding him guilty.

In April 1990, former Taylor Circuit Court Judge W.M. Hall sentenced Melton to serve 50 years in prison as recommended by the jury. He was credited for 201 days he had already served.

Johnson was found guilty of the charges against him at a February 1991 trial in Green County and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

At Melton's sentencing hearing, Lebanon attorneys Jim Abell and Ted Lavit, who defended Melton, filed a motion for a new trial, arguing several issues, some of which included that they believed essential elements of the arson charge were not proven and Melton should have been granted a change of venue for his trial because of pre-trial publicity.

Hall overruled those motions, though, and an appeal was later filed with the Kentucky Supreme Court. Several other appeals and motions followed, according to court records, and all were denied.

One such motion, filed in 2002, contained 31 handwritten pages filed by Melton on his own behalf. Melton, who currently has no attorney, alleges that a 50-year sentence for his crimes was too severe. He asked that his sentence be reduced to 20 years and he be granted an evidentiary hearing. However, no action was taken on that motion, according to court records.

In March 2008, Melton, who is still serving his 50-year sentence, filed another motion to vacate his conviction and sentence, claiming that he was denied a fair trial.

Melton's motion claims that his sentence should be vacated for several reasons, including that the jury's verdict was not unanimous and the maximum sentence he should have received was 20 years.

He asked that his 50-year sentence be substituted for a 20-year sentence.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Barry Bertram, who prosecuted the case against Melton, responded to the motion by stating that Melton had already covered his arguments in previous appeals and motions.

Bertram argued that Melton filed his motion 17 years after being sentenced, and that is not within "reasonable time" without claiming some unusual circumstances, which Melton is not alleging.

"The defendant has already had 'several bites at the apple' and is simply not entitled to another bite," Bertram wrote.

Taylor Circuit Court Judge Doughlas M. George denied Melton's motion last month.

Earlier this month, a motion made by Melton asking for an attorney to be appointed to his case to assist him with his appeal was also denied.

On July 2, Melton filed an appeal of George's denial of his March motion to the Court of Appeals.

On Wednesday, Bertram said he thinks there was nothing improper about Melton's trial. He said Melton has written him letters about how he has changed his life.

"That's for a parole board to decide," he said.

Since Melton has served nearly 20 years in prison, Bertram said, it's probably nearing the time when he will get a chance to appear before a parole board.

Bertram said Nash's family has been opposed to any reduction of Melton's sentence. He said Nash at one time lived in an adult care home. He said he saw Nash, who still lives in the area, more than a year ago, and he is able to get around well. He is unable to work, however, Bertram said.

Bertram said he believes the jury was harsh in its recommendation of a 50-year sentence because of evidence presented that indicated Melton and Johnson had attempted to burn Nash alive.

"It was a horrible crime," Bertram said.

Lavit said he hasn't been involved in the case since Melton's trial and hasn't followed the appeals. He said he also doesn't remember his opinion of the case.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.