Melvin Goes From Solitary to the Street

26-year-old Halifax Man Charged in Home Invasion in Jail for Two Years Awaiting Trial

James Bernard Melvin is looking forward to a stiff drink and some family time after spending two gruelling years in prison awaiting trial on a slew of charges that were dismissed Friday because two Crown witnesses changed their stories.

Two years in solitary confinement it's been a long one, the 26-year-old said in an interview about an hour after he was released on bail for charges in an unrelated matter.

I'm shaking right now, I'm definitely going to need a drink to calm the nerves, he said.

Up until this week, Mr. Melvin agreed to be in custody on charges of robbery, break and enter, unlawful confinement, assault causing bodily harm and weapons offences, all stemming from a March 2007 home invasion.

Everything changed Friday when in Nova Scotia Supreme Court the Crown announced that in light of recent developments, it would not be offering evidence on any of the charges.

Crown Attorney Christine Driscoll told the court that earlier this month, the two complainants in the case left the witness protection program and came forward with new information that called into question the evidence of the Crown's third witness.

Two of our main witnesses have provided new statements, essentially, to the defence changing their recant of events on the date that the incidents were alleged, she said outside court.

As a result of that, I had to examine my whole case and whether there was a realistic prospect of conviction, and there wasn't.

Ms. Driscoll said she doesn't know what made the witnesses change their story.

Defence lawyer Josh Arnold wouldn't discuss the details, but said he thinks there were flaws in the police investigation.

It's our belief that some of the flaws in relation to this prosecution may impact on outstanding matters, so I don't want to get into the details right now, he told reporters.

All I can say is that there were significant differences in what (the witnesses) told our investigator in comparison to what they had told the police initially and what they had testified to at the preliminary inquiry.

Ms. Driscoll said the lead investigators on the case were Halifax Regional Police detective constables Nick Pepler and Perry Astephen, a 17-year veteran of the force who was suspended in July over allegations of officer misconduct.

He is now back on the job, but an October police newsletter, which identifies him as a constable, said he recently transferred from the homicide division to patrol.

Sources say the investigator was also one of the off-duty officers allegedly involved in a late-night fight with two young black men in Digby on June 22.

The Crown nixed any rumours that the charges were withdrawn because of Const. Astephen's involvement in the case. I made my decision solely on the evidence, Ms. Driscoll said.

Whatever the reason the charges were dropped, Mr. Melvin was obviously pleased to be out.

Justice is all I can think, freedom, he said, his voice shaking. It's been a long legal battle.

He was quick to thank his family, as well as Mr. Arnold, who stood close by during the media scrum, advising his client on which questions to answer.

Mr. Melvin said it's too early to say what action, if any, he will take against the justice system for the alleged bad treatment he received while incarcerated.

He was released on a $5,000 recognizance and a number of conditions, including a clause that he must reside at his parents' home at 187 Philip Dr. in Fall River and abide by a curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Crown agreed that if Mr. Melvin has no breaches come January, it will eliminate the curfew completely.

The same charges were dropped against Mr. Melvin's co-accused, Anastasios Papadopoulos, 33, who was also released Friday.

Mr. Melvin still faces two counts of break and enter and one of conspiracy to commit break and enter in an unrelated robbery from September 2006.

He goes to trial on those charges in Nova Scotia Supreme Court next June.