Readings — From the December 2009 issue

Midnight Cowpoke

From September 23 proceedings in the case of Robert Melia, a police officer from Moorestown, New Jersey, who was videotaped engaging in sexual acts with calves in Southampton, New Jersey, in 2006. In 2008, Melia was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three girls over a period of five years; he was also charged with animal cruelty for the 2006 incident. Mark Catanzaro is the lawyer for the defense; Kevin Morgan is an assistant prosecutor for Burlington County. Superior Court Judge James Morley dismissed the animal-cruelty charge.

Mark Catanzaro: Judge, I defy the court to find the set of facts which supports the indictment. Bestiality was eliminated by our legislature. They determined that it was no longer going to be a crime. In order for the state to shoehorn this set of facts, they claimed animal cruelty. Where is a single fact to suggest any cruelty? They made it clear in testimony that the owner was very upset, but there’s nothing to suggest that this in any way upset or tormented the animals. What was it about the act that establishes the element of torment?

Judge James Morley: What about the inference of teasing, annoying the animal, by placing something in the animal’s mouth and causing the animal to engage in the kinds of physical activity that normally result in the delivery of nourishment?

Catanzaro: How do you know that’s teasing the animal? I’m just curious.

Morley: Well, dangling a hamburger on a string in front of a hungry man, I guess that’s the closest analogy I could draw. The hungry man just can’t quite get to it, and you dangle it again, and he’s frustrated.

Catanzaro: I didn’t see any evidence that suckling, if it doesn’t get them something, torments them. I never assumed that if you have a mother that is not able to feed the animal, the mother is tormenting the calf.

Morley: The State provides the definition of torment, and one of the definitions of torment is to be a source of vexation, and then the fourth definition of vexation is being puzzled, baffled.

Catanzaro: So you can conclude that these animals were puzzled or baffled?

Morley: Mr. Morgan?

Kevin Morgan: I could go on and on about what vexation means, but it’s not necessary. What that grand jury heard was that with five calves—four on tape—Mr. Melia is seen with his penis in the calves’—little baby cows’!—mouths. Now, if that is not a source of vexation, and therefore tormenting, I don’t know what is, Judge.

Morley: What would the State contend was the nature of the vexation that the grand jury may infer was experienced by the calves? Is it, “I want nourishment, it’s not there, I do this to get nourishment, and therefore I’m puzzled or baffled”? Or is it that the calf finds it disgusting?

Morgan: Judge, it’s a little difficult for the State to get into the mind-set of a calf. But if you watch the tape, what you’ll see is the calf repeatedly head-butting Mr. Melia in the stomach, because it thinks it’s about to get milk. Well, the calf doesn’t ever get milk. A reasonable juror could say that a man’s penis in the mouth of a calf is tormenting that calf. I mean, Judge, I think it’s fair to say that it’s an act against nature.

Morley: But the cow doesn’t know it’s an act against nature. If the calf had the cognitive ability to form the thought and speak, the calf would say, “Where’s the milk? Somebody puts something in my mouth, and I engage in this sucking motion, and I’m not getting milk!” I mean, any of us who have children know that children love to suck their fingers. They love it so much that they just won’t stop. We also give them pacifiers, on which they perform the same physical act as they perform on a bottle. In all the time I sat in on child-abuse cases, I never had doctors come and say this torments the child. If we know that children just like to suck things, can we say that the calf, which has far less cognitive power than an infant, simply doesn’t enjoy doing the same thing?

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