HAZARD – Circuit Judge William Engle is set to consider a plea deal announced this week that could have a man indicted on multiple charges of rape and incest sentenced to probation.
Johnny L. Melton, 42, of Hazard, appeared in court on Thursday where his attorney, Kevin Johnson, tendered a plea agreement that calls for Melton to plead guilty to three counts of incest in exchange for five years of probation. Three counts of first-degree rape and one count of unlawful imprisonment would be dismissed.
After reading the agreement, Engle inquired about the rationale behind the prosecution’s offer in light of the serious charges involved. First-degree rape is a Class B felony punishable by a maximum of 20 years for each count.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen noted the alleged victim in the case, who is Melton’s niece and is now 18 years old, cannot be located and has not responded to any attempts to contact her. He said she moved out of her mother’s home upon turning 18.
“We’ve not had any response or cooperation from her whatsoever,” Hansen said, adding she may be in either Floyd or Pike County.
Additionally, Hansen said the victim’s mother contacted his office and said there exists a possibility that Melton is not the victim’s uncle as she is unsure of her daughter’s paternity.
Melton was indicted in June on allegations that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with his niece on different occasions in April of this year. According to the police report, which Engle read aloud during Thursday’s hearing, Melton was arrested on charges of custodial interference in Winchester, Ky., in April while the alleged victim was also present.
After being separated, the report notes the victim told police that Melton had taken her to a motel in Hazard and had sex with her on more than one occasion. Kentucky State Police Det. Billy Pollard reported that he had interviewed Melton and he admitted to the encounters.
Despite those statements, defense attorney Kevin Johnson presented Engle with an affidavit signed by the allege victim swearing that Melton did not force her to do anything, and that she loves him.
Even if there was no forcible compulsion during the encounters, Engle noted, the felony charges of incest may be applicable as, according to the police report, Melton admitted that he had met with his niece on more than one occasion.
“It appears to me that he has confessed to something,” Engle said.
Before issuing a ruling on the agreement, Engle ordered Det. Pollard and the alleged victim to be present for a status hearing on Thursday, Dec. 5, at which time he will consider the matter and either reject or accept the agreement. Melton’s trial set for Dec. 2 was cancelled.
“I think before I can intelligently consider the plea, I need more people here,” he said.
Melton is currently lodged in the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard.