The special Napa County grand jury has indicted a man in custody for the killing of a woman at Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge 36 years ago.
Texas native Roy Allen Melanson, 73, is now headed to trial on a single count of murder for the death of Anita Andrews on July 10, 1974.
During a two-day hearing earlier this month, the grand jury found there was enough evidence to hold Melanson in connection with the crime.
The hearing, which was held in secret, without Melanson or his defense attorney Deputy Public Defender Allison Wilensky present, included testimony from 13 witnesses, according to court documents.
Among them were former investigators who processed the original crime scene, a man who was at the bar prior to the killing, Andrews’ former neighbor and Don Winegar, the Napa Police investigator whose work was key in cracking the case.
On the night of the killing, Andrews was seen with a stranger at the bar she co-owned with her sister, Muriel Fagiani, according to court documents. Fagiani found her dead the next morning after Andrews failed to show up to work at Napa State Hospital.
Investigators launched a large-scaled investigation, but a suspect remained elusive for decades.
Last year, Winegar turned in evidence from 1974 to the California Department of Justice crime lab, court documents say. Lab technicians were able to extract DNA evidence, which they submitted to a national DNA database called CODIS.
The DNA profile matched Melanson, who was serving a life sentence at Fort Lyons Correctional Institute in Colorado for another murder. The district attorney’s office filed charges in July, and Melanson was extradited to Napa in September.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Gero declined to explain why his office decided to pursue a grand jury indictment instead of the more common path for criminal cases, a preliminary hearing before a judge.
The indictment came as a surprise to Wilensky, who expressed disappointment the DA had used a grand jury.
“I lose an incredibly important opportunity to see the witnesses, to hear first-hand what they have to say and to question them, of course,” she said.
It will change how she approaches the case and adds more work up front, Wilensky said. She now will set about considering filing a variety of motions with the court that would have been unnecessary if a preliminary hearing had been held.
In a preliminary hearing, for example, she could have made objections during the proceeding. She will now review the grand jury transcript to see if Gero followed prescribed procedures.
She also must navigate some of the same challenges prosecutors encounter in crimes that occurred so long ago.
“Unfortunately, as much as the prosecutors say their case suffers if witnesses have passed on, we’re faced with the same problem,” she said.
The next hearing will be to conduct videotaped interviews of two witnesses with health conditions. Muriel Fagiani and David Luce, who was at the bar prior to the murder, will testify Nov. 17 and 18.
Gero requested that the court hold the interviews pre-trial to preserve their testimony.
A judge is also expected to set a date for Melanson’s trial.
The upcoming interviews, which would usually happen at trial, leave little time to prepare, Wilensky said.
She is reviewing about 3,000 pages of evidence. That collection of documents includes many whose author is unknown or have no date listed.
“It’s incredible difficult to wade through, so there is a substantial amount of work for me,” she said.
She must also retain a variety of experts to decipher the DNA evidence, fingerprinting and other evidence.
Wilensky is still considering the defense she will use for her client, she said. “As time goes on things will become clearer to me,” she said.
Gero said he doesn’t expect the trial to proceed this year.
The district attorney’s office respects the grand jury’s decision, he said. “Evidence presented to the grand jury fully supports the indictment,” he said. “We will continue to prosecute this case aggressively."