Judge wants woman’s accusations against Jefferson man investigated
By Peggy Wright
Sep 5, 2012
Suspicious that a woman concocted a tale of being threatened at gunpoint by her ex-boyfriend, a state Superior Court judge in Morristown has suggested that police and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office investigate the woman’s claim of being victimized.
“I’m going to reiterate: It appears you have grossly misused the domestic violence law,” Family Division Judge Thomas J. Critchley Jr. told Melanie Pilcher, 44, at a hearing in August.
“It’s foolishness what you’ve done and the banner under which you’ve marched. It’s on its face absurd some of the things you’ve been saying.” the judge said.
The current obstacle for the man Pilcher has accused — Jefferson resident Robert A. Mertrud, 55 — is that he remains criminally charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, a charge that alone carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.
Mertrud was in Superior Court, Morristown, on Tuesday for a so-called early disposition conference on the criminal charges. Defense lawyer Michael J. Hanifan Sr. said he wants the Prosecutor’s Office to dismiss the case, particularly since he has a videotape he says disproves Pilcher’s claim that Mertrud was home terrorizing her at a specific time.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi said his office will review the matter.
Without commenting specifically on the case, Patty Sly, executive director of the Jersey Battered Women’s Service in Morris County, said that false domestic violence reports “would truly be the exception.” She said there are more than 2,500 reported domestic violence incidents in the county each year.
“The overwhelming majority of people need restraining orders legitimately. The domestic violence laws are an important part of how people seek services and get protection,” Sly said.
Bianchi said of Mertrud’s case: “This information that was previously unknown to law enforcement will be evaluated by our attorneys. We will take whatever appropriate action thereafter.”
Pilcher on July 25 called Jefferson police around 7:35 p.m. to report an alleged act of domestic violence she said that Mertrud, with whom she had lived nearly a decade, committed against her. When police arrived, she claimed that Mertrud, who wasn’t home, held a BB gun to her head and threatened to shoot her.
She also claimed that Mertrud was highly intoxicated and had sat in a wicker chair on the front porch of the home drinking beer and Sambuca before he threatened her, according to court records.
Police tracked down Mertrud at a bar in West Milford and charged him with aggravated assault, terroristic threats and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. He posted $10,000 bail and was given 15 minutes to retrieve some clothes from his house. According to Hanifan, Mertrud grabbed the evidence he needed to prove he didn’t commit a crime: the hard drive to a home security surveillance system that covered the exterior of his home.
The night of the alleged incident, Pilcher obtained a temporary domestic violence restraining order from a municipal court judge. She ultimately decided to drop her request for a final restraining order after one hearing, saying she no longer feared Mertrud because she was moving out of the area and would be away from him. But Critchley, according to transcripts of two family court hearings, found Pilcher’s story of the events of July 25 highly questionable.
Family court hearings on domestic violence restraining orders are civil matters handled separately from criminal court. Though the restraining order request was withdrawn, negating a reason for Critchley to make a formal finding on whether domestic violence had occurred, he opined: “It appears to me that that complaint was false.”
“I believe that the Prosecutor’s Office should look into the fact that it appears a false firearms complaint was filed,” the judge said in August.
According to Hanifan, videotape from the home security system shows that Mertrud was never on the porch of the home and was not even on the premises when Pilcher claimed he was.
The arresting police officer found the BB gun in its original casing tucked away in a bedroom closet and Mertrud was determined to be sober when he was tracked down at the bar; however, the arresting officer said he believed that Pilcher was drunk, court records said.
Pilcher was able to remain in Mertrud’s home between July 25 and Aug. 8 and, in that time span, allegedly stole one of his stereos, his Yamaha motorcycle, comforters, pictures, an espresso machine and other items.
Most of the items have been returned under an order issued by Critchley, who had delineated the items that Pilcher could remove from the house. She moved out of Mertrud’s home as of Aug. 8, and at a family court hearing the same day, the judge was livid that she had appeared to pilfer the home of items belonging to Mertrud.
Pilcher claimed some of the items she had removed were given free to Mertrud, or he had several of the same items, so she was entitled to them. She also claimed that on an unspecified earlier occasion, Mertrud had fractured her back.
“Your Honor, I have an eyebrow that doesn’t even work,” Pilcher told the judge in August. “I have three fractures in my back. I tried to give my doctors’ reports from the emergency room when I was there. I’ve had my teeth knocked out.”
The judge retorted: “Well, you have moved an awful lot of property and taken a motorcycle despite the fractures and other physical liabilities.”
Critchley urged Hanifan: “You should get a transcript of this and forward it to the police department and the Prosecutor’s Office.”