Murder Defendant Held After Two-Day Preliminary Hearing

On July 30, a two-day preliminary hearing concluded with a DC Superior Court judge ruling that a homicide case has enough evidence to go to trial.

Ronnie Melson, 40, is charged with first-degree murder while armed for allegedly shooting 41-year-old Demetrius Jones on the 1700 block of Gales Street, NE, on Nov. 6, 2020.

“This does appear to be a premeditated act of retribution committed in an incredibly dangerous manner,” Judge Neal Kravitz said. 

The preliminary hearing was previously scheduled to take place in April, but it was postponed after Judge Kravitz ordered the prosecution to disclose evidence that the defense argued they should have received.

When proceedings picked back up on July 29, Judge Kravitz said that the evidence in question, which includes a video of police interviewing a witness, should be given to the defense under a protective order.

Defense attorney Bernadette Armand said they had previously only received a summary of the interview’s transcript. Armand said there were no actual answers to some of the questions officers asked the witness in the transcript, implying nonverbal responses that Armand had no way to observe.

“A lot of material was turned over a lot later than it should have been,” Judge Kravitz said.

On July 30, a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) detective assigned to the case testified that officers responded to shots picked up by gunfire detection technology at about 10:40 a.m the day of the homicide. According to the detective, Melson was identified based on the account of the witness from the interview, who told officers that Jones and Melson had been involved in a dispute.

The detective also testified that the witness in the interview initially said she did not see the incident take place, but during a phone call she made during the interview when detectives were not present, she told someone that detectives knew she had seen it.

Armand said that the descriptions given by multiple witnesses at the scene were not consistent with one another. Armand said the witness in the interview footage described the shooter as wearing a mask, while other witnesses did not, and only one of those other witnesses was able to give any description of the shooter’s hairstyle. Other descriptions of the shooter included information on height and skin tone that was not consistent with Melson’s appearance, she said.

The prosecution said that Melson’s phone was picked up by a cell tower in the area at the time of the homicide and that Melson has a stab wound from a previous altercation with Jones, a story that the witness corroborated during her interview.

The prosecution argued that Melson should remain held at DC Jail, saying that he has 12 prior convictions and has never successfully completed a period of probation. Armand argued that Melson should, at most, be placed under 24-hour home confinement so he could take care of his elderly, medically infirmed relative.

Judge Kravitz decided to hold the defendant based on the dangerousness of the incident, citing the entire magazine’s worth of bullets found on the scene and the collateral damage caused by stray bullets. Judge Kravitz also said there are a number of violent crimes on Melson’s record, including assaults in 2009 and 2019.

Judge Kravitz scheduled Melson’s next hearing for Nov. 1.