Melton Goes Free After Jury Finds Him Not Guilty Of Second-Degree Murder

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WASHINGTON COUNTY (KFSM) – A Washington County jury found former Razorback football player Joshua Melton not guilty of second-degree murder Thursday morning.

Jurors began deliberating at 9 a.m. Thursday whether Melton was guilty in the beating death of his friend Michael Gover after a night of drinking last year.  The jury delivered its verdict just after 10 a.m. and acquitted Melton of all charges. He walked from the courthouse following the verdict.

Prosecutor Matt Durrett said his team is disappointed by the outcome.

"It certainly is a tough case and we knew that going on, there were a lot of issues for the jurors to look at, but we felt like this was a case that the jury certainly needed to decide, but it wasn't the outcome we wanted or felt was appropriate," Durrett said.

Melton's attorney Drew Ledbetter said he was pleased with the outcome, especially because of medical evidence presented in the trial. He said 30 days after the arrest, the medical examiner's report showed that Gover died of a heart attack, not from his injuries.

"I've been saying for the last year and a half that this is a case that should not have been charged, it's the first thing I said in my opening statement at this trial and the last trial, it's the first thing I said in my closing argument in this trial, this is not a crime," Ledbetter said.

Melton, part of the 2001 University of Arkansas team that went to the Cotton Bowl,  was arrested Aug. 28, 2013, after going into a “rage” and punching 30-year-old Michael Gover multiple times, according to a preliminary report from the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The West Fork resident was found dead in Melton’s home in Fayetteville, police said.

This week's retrial comes after a mistrial was declared in Melton’s murder trial July 2. After two jurors were dismissed in the original trial, the jury box was left one juror short of the required 12. The trial was delayed again in October.

One juror was dismissed in the original trial after nodding off and conceding he had not heard all the testimony. An alternate was available to take that juror’s place, but then another juror approached the judge later that same day and said she was not emotionally equipped to handle the testimony in a murder trial, officials said.

The retrial began Monday, with closing arguments ending Wednesday evening. Ledbetter said the mistrial in July was frustrating, because it delayed Melton's innoncence.

"We were disappointed, we were very disappointed, we wanted to put on our evidence then, but it didn't work out and that was no one's fault," Ledbetter said.

Following his arrest in 2013, Melton was released from the Washington County Detention Center on $100,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in October 2013.

Melton was arrested in connection with Gover’s death after telling a 911 operator he was unable to wake the victim after a fight following an all-night alcohol binge, according to the preliminary report.

Police found Gover dead inside the house near the front door. He had blood on his face and chest, according to the report.

Responding officers found Melton sitting in his driveway with his hands covered in blood. He was slumped and crying, the preliminary report states.

Melton and Gover had been drinking until about 2 a.m. at Hooters and J.J.’s Grill in Fayetteville, police said. They drove to Melton’s home at 6316 W. Copper Ridge Lane and drank more alcohol. Melton told police he last saw the victim lying on the floor breathing, the report states.

Police said the altercation was preceded by the victim vomiting on the suspect’s carpet. Melton allegedly confronted the victim, and the victim responded with “lewd comments,” according to the preliminary report.

The victim then grabbed Melton inappropriately, leading to a fight between the two men, the report states.

Melton went to bed after the altercation and found the victim unresponsive when he woke up and checked on him, the report states. Melton later admitted to police his earlier comments about he and the victim “swapping licks” were made because the suspect knew “he went too far,” according to the report.

“The initial call he made a statement that they had been kind of exchanging licks, making it almost sound like it was some type of game, just trading punches as it were, but as we got into it a little bit further we realized that was not the case,” said Sgt. Craig Stout, Fayetteville police spokesman.

The responding officer states in the report that Melton was “cooperative and concerned throughout the interview.”

“He maintained there was never any intention to cause the victim’s death,” the officer states in the report.

The six-foot-five, 289-pound Melton, who played at Batesville High, was a center on the Razorback football team that went to the Cotton Bowl under coach Houston Nutt in 2001, losing 10-3 to Oklahoma, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.

10 comments

  • Richard S. Drake

    I hope if I ever get put on trial for murder, all the writing I have ever done gets mentioned.
    Not sure why an athlete’s PAST sports performance has much to do with a MURDR trial?

  • roberto

    So are they (the jurors) contending that this was a justifiable homicide? I am struggling with their decision because he did cause the death of another human being. There was no mention if manslaughter was on the table either. As far as I am concerned, there was only one combatant in this fight and his size should have definitely been taken into consideration in comparison to the victim. This is the second time that someone has been killed in a “fight” and the assailant walked free. At least in the other case that person only hit the victim one time. In this case it is clear that the assailant lost his temper and beat the victim to death. He should not be free. The fact that the media continually refers to him as a “former Razorback” really adds empathy for him. They should refrain from doing so.

  • THE "REAL" ELAPHAS

    I guess if you’re white male, you can get away with murder now. I find it hard to believe that if a black or hispanic man would have been tried for the same thing the outcome would have been the same.

    • roberto

      Unless you listen to certain type of music and look different than others around you. Arkansas hasn’t come very far from West Memphis in all of these years.

  • VeryUnfortunate

    The ME concluded the deceased had a clinically enlarged heart and the death did not directly occur from Josh’s actions. Most just look and say “he’s white or maybe he was a former Razorback” and make uninformed comments. It could have also been said he spent days volunteering such as when he donated his strong back and benevolent spirit to the Joplin tornado victims and their efforts. Jump to whatever conclusion you wish but Josh was anything but “a killer.” And yes, sometimes the court and jurors decide in exactly the correct way.

    • Michael

      So if you have an enlarged heart, and you have been drinking, someone can kill you and get away with it? Maybe if he had a normal heart he could have survived the beating from a drunk “Razorback”. Ridiculous! Also, when you beat a guy to death, I think it cancels out any angel points volunteer work may get you with your strong back.

  • Skippy Johnon

    Obviously, most of those leaving comments either cannot read, or simply choose to not read. From the article. “He said 30 days after the arrest, the medical examiner’s report showed that Gover died of a heart attack, not from his injuries.”
    Got that? Gover was NOT “beaten to death.” He died from a heart attack, probably helped along by very heavy binge drinking.

    • Michael

      Ok, but maybe, just maybe, a heart attack can be caused from being beaten to a pulp? I don’t think its that we cannot read, maybe the people commenting just have common sense. Seriously, if he had not been beaten, do you think he would have still died? I feel really bad for the victim and his family.

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