Roy Melanson was found guilty of first-degree murder Friday afternoon in the 1974 slaying of Anita Andrews in the old Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge.
Deliberating since Thursday afternoon, the Napa Superior Court jury of eight women and four men returned its verdict at 5 p.m. Superior Court Judge Ray Guadagni set Melanson’s sentencing for Oct. 27.
Melanson, 74, who has spent most of his life in prison in different states, showed no emotion as the clerk read the verdict. Each juror was then polled, with a few dabbing their eyes as they affirmed their vote.
As he left the courthouse with Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, prosecutor Paul Gero seemed pleased. “It gives me faith in the jury system that it works,” he said.
Asked whether he was surprised, Gero said, “You’re never confident with juries.”
Defense attorney Allison Wilensky said she was not surprised by the verdict. The jury worked hard and took a lot of time, she said. “I’m thankful for that,” she said.
“I’ll file an appeal,” she said.
Lieberstein, who was in the courtroom when the verdict was read, said his office pursued the case because the family of Anita Andrews and the community deserve answers.
“We don’t forget about victims or justice because time goes by,” Lieberstein said.
Melanson, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado for the 1974 murder of another woman, is up for parole in that case in September 2012. Lieberstein said his office could not take the chance of seeing Melanson released on bail.
Melanson will return to Colorado to serve the remainder of his sentence, Lieberstein said.
The jury reached a verdict after asking questions earlier in the day about testimony during the two-week trial.
At 4:30 p.m., the jury met with Guadagni to discuss how to proceed if it didn’t reach a verdict before the end of the day Friday since Guadagni would be out of town next week.
The judge offered the jurors several options, including taking next week off and returning on Oct. 11, as planned, or to continue deliberations under another judge.
A few jurors said they were unavailable next week. The jury then asked to resume deliberations. About 10 minutes later, word came that a verdict had been reached.
Friday’s verdict brought closure to a 37-year-old murder case that few imagined would ever be solved.
On the morning of July 11, 1974, the late Muriel Fagiani discovered her sister’s body in a pool of blood in the stockroom at Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge on Main Street.
Andrews, 51, who had last been seen alive the night before tending bar, had been stabbed 13 times with a screwdriver, the prosecution said during the trial. Andrews’ clothes had been ripped. Her 1967 Cadillac was gone.
Among the clues left at the crime scene were a cigarette butt in an ashtray, a bloody partial footprint on a rear staircase, fingerprints on bottles of alcohol and an open cash box.
Andrews, a single mother, tended the bar after working her main job at Napa State Hospital. She and her sister had inherited the business from their father, Nicola Fagiani. The bar was only open a limited number of hours to keep the bar’s alcohol license valid, witnesses said.
Melanson became connected to the crime in November 2009 after a cigarette butt from the crime scene was finally run through a forensics lab. DNA on the butt matched Melanson’s DNA profile, investigators testified.
Napa police Det. Don Winegar, who was assigned the cold case in 2006, went to interview Melanson at Fort Lyon, but Melanson denied any involvement in the murder. He also denied ever having been in Napa.
A DNA expert for the prosecution, Michelle Terra, a criminalist with the California Department of Justice, testified that the DNA profile on the cigarette butt matched Melanson’s.
Melanson did not testify in his own defense. His attorney said her client was a drifter and simply may not have remembered ever being in Napa.
Whether Melanson returns to Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison, is up in the air.
Fort Lyon, a former Veterans Hospital facility dating from the Civil War era, is scheduled to close in March, Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said before Friday’s verdict.
Melanson had been at Fort Lyon since 2008, working as a recreation clerk, Sanguinetti said.
If he were found guilty in California, Melanson would likely be sent to a higher- security prison where inmates have very limited time outside, Sanguinetti said.
Melanson had been connected to the 1988 disappearance of Charlotte Sauerwin in Louisiana. The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office said it has warrants for the arrest of Melanson for suspected murder and robbery.
On Friday, after leaving the courtroom after the verdict was read, Winegar recalled telling Muriel Fagiani in November 2009, a year before her death, that someone had been identified.
She was pleased, Winegar said. But she also said that it wouldn’t bring her sister back.
“And that’s the truth,” Winegar said.