FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - A defense attorney in Broward County has raised issues with the county’s medical examiner’s office, after he discovered the office destroyed evidence that could affect his case.
Ronald Melnik is accused of murdering his longtime friend Ray Payan in 2011, after they got in an argument on New Year’s Eve.
Melnik allegedly shot his friend when Payan tried to stop him from driving drunk. Payan’s friend Damian Pinto said Melnik got angry when Payan tried to stop him from driving.
“Ray’s problem was he didn’t want him to drive drunk. So [Melnik] got mad and he lost his mind — because he’s a mental case — and he shot him. And he threatened his kids and went back and shot him again,” Pinto said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more caring person. And there wasn’t a person he wouldn’t help, whether it’s a stranger, whether it’s a friend, including the guy that killed him.”
However, when Melnik’s attorney David Bogenschutz asked to test Payan’s blood, saying he could have been on drugs and aggressive, he found out that the medical examiner had already destroyed the blood and tissue evidence.
Medical Examiner Craig Mallak said he began destroying blood and tissue samples, once they had been in the office for at least a year, in 2012, due to a lack of space.
“The only reason he did it, and he’s testified this way, is because they need more space,” Bogenschutz said. “Without even checking with the state attorney, who was on his back, saying, ‘Let us know what you’re going to destroy.’ If that’s not grossly negligent, I don’t know what is.”
Mallak said the blood and tissue samples begin to deteriorate after some time, and he’s just following industry standards.
Prosecutors said Payan had blood transfusions so there was no way to prove what was in his blood anyway. They also said the prosecutors asked for the blood four years after.
“It’s the biggest reach of travesty of justice I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pinto said.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said the ME’s decision to destroy evidence could affect thousands of cases. Finkelstein said Mallak should have alerted his office and the state attorney.
“It opens up a big can of worms. It opens up the potential that people who were actually innocent could have been exonerated,” said Finkelstein, “and it opens up a can of worms that those who were guilty, and would not have a defense that works, now have something that they can put in front of a jury.”
A judge will decide whether to dismiss Melnik’s case within the next few weeks.
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