The man who fatally shot Kansas City, Kan., police Capt. Robert David Melton in the summer of 2016 was sentenced Friday to life in prison.
Jamaal R. Lewis, 22, pleaded guilty in October to first-degree felony murder which carries only one possible sentence — life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
He also pleaded guilty in Wyandotte County District Court to charges of aggravated assault and shooting into an unoccupied dwelling.
District Judge Wes Griffin ordered the maximum sentences on those charges — 13 months for assault and nine months for the discharge count — and ordered them to run consecutively to each other and consecutively to the life sentence.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Lewis had no comment before his sentencing.
He had initially been charged with capital murder which carried a potential sentence of death or life in prison without parole.
But because the capital murder and felony murder charges were filed as alternatives to each other, Lewis was able to plead guilty to the less serious crimes without prosecutors agreeing to it.
Members of Melton’s family, as well as police and community leaders, were upset by the plea and the fact that they were unaware it was going to happen.
Following the sentencing Friday, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree Sr. held a news conference discussing the case and explaining the felony murder charge.
If the case would have gone to trial, Dupree indicated it was possible if the jury would not have been able to agree on whether or not the shooting was premeditated, it could have led to a reduced charge with “a sentence of 12 to 14 years based on (Lewis’) lack of criminal history under the Kansas sentencing guidelines,” he explained.
The result, Dupree said, “would have been wholly unacceptable as there was overwhelming evidence to support the alternative charge of felony murder.”
“Given these facts, we had to do what we could do to ensure a life sentence,” Dupree said, adding that the felony murder charge consisted of shooting into an occupied vehicle and killing someone in the process.
While Dupree acknowledged Lewis could ask to be released after serving nearly 27 years in prison, the prosecutor said he “doesn’t foresee that ever happening.”
Several who spoke at Friday’s sentencing said that they felt they had been denied justice and said Lewis should never be released from prison.
Zeta Bates, who was engaged to Melton, and gave birth to their baby daughter after he died, said she and other family members would attend every parole hearing to oppose his release.
Melton’s former wife, Katie Malkames, said that Friday was their youngest daughter’s 13th birthday.
“This is her third birthday without her daddy,” she said. “The third of many without him.”
Malkames read a letter that their daughter wrote.
“I wish I could just see him one more time, but I can’t because of you,” the girl wrote.
Melton, 46, was killed on July 19, 2016, while he was helping other officers search for suspects in a drive-by shooting.
Lewis had admitted to driving the car used in the shooting. But he wrecked the car and took off on foot.
Melton spotted Lewis and pulled up to him in his unmarked patrol car.
In his written request to enter a guilty plea, Lewis said he thought the vehicle was a police car. He said he did not see the driver, but believed it was a police officer.
Lewis was carrying a .40-caliber handgun that belonged to his mother. When the car pulled in front of him, Lewis pulled out the gun and fired multiple shots into the vehicle.
“I did not see Capt. Melton point a gun at me, and I did not hear Capt. Melton say anything to me,” he said. “I shot at the unmarked white car because I was afraid I would be arrested by a police officer inside the car.”
Melton was the second Kansas City, Kan., police officer to die in the line of duty in 2016.
That May, Detective Brad Lancaster was fatally shot near the Kansas Speedway by a man who went on a violent crime spree that ended when a Kansas City officer shot him.
Curtis Ayers later pleaded guilty to capital murder in Lancaster’s death and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
One of those speaking Friday was John Bates, the grandfather of the now 2-year-old daughter of Melton and Zeta Bates.
John Bates said his father, Delbert Bates, was a police officer in Kansas City who was wounded in 1929 during an incident in which another officer, Ralph Hinds was killed.
His father never recovered from the emotional toll of the incident, becoming an abusive, alcoholic broken man, he said.
The man who killed Hinds and wounded his father was paroled after serving about 30 years and died homeless and abandoned. Bates said that Lewis deserves the same fate, “without hope, friendless and alone.”