A convicted rapist in Massachusetts is trying to win visitation rights to the child fathered when he raped a 14-year-old girl.
Jamie Melendez, now 24, was convicted of raping a middle school student he met when he was 17 and a foster child involved with a church youth group in Norfolk, Mass. According to the victim's attorney, Melendez went to the girl's house when he knew her mother would not be home and pressured her to have sex with him. She said she felt threatened and intimidated by Melendez.
Melendez pleaded guilty to the rape in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation. Judge Thomas McGuire, who oversaw the criminal case against Melendez, remanded the case to Family Court in the Spring where Melendez was ordered to pay $110 a week in child support to the victim.
Now, Melendez has filed a petition in Family Court arguing that if he is forced to pay child support, he should have the right of visitation, a situation the victim's attorney says would be outrageously unjust.
"Once I learned that the judge ordered a rapist to go off to Family Court and pay child support, which is pretty outrageous - in a sense it decriminalizes the behavior, or frames it other than a serious crime - I got on board and filed a motion to reverse the judge's order," said Wendy Murphy, a criminal attorney and academic at the New England School of Law.
"My client is very worried she'll have to send her daughter off to this man she doesn't know, and tell her she'll be going off on visits with the man who raped her mother and created her. We're fiercely fighting against concept of even being in Family Court," Murphy said.
In August, Murphy filed a motion with the judge asking him to reverse his decision and to send Melendez to Criminal Court and ask him to pay restitution fees equaling the amount of child support he would owe in Family Court. Melendez would have no parental rights if he were sent to Criminal Court for restitution, she said.
"She wants nothing to do with this guy," Murphy said. "She doesn't want a 16 year relationship with him. He can request visitation, he can have potential involvement in the child's education, have access to the child, control where (the victim) lives. We don't want this in Family Court."
McGuire has not issued a ruling.
Melendez's attorney, public defender Larry Tipton, did not return calls for comment on the case. Neither did Judge Thomas McGuire.
Murphy is also asking the Massachusetts Supreme Court to rule on whether criminal courts can send rapists to Family Court at all in Massachusetts.
"Can a Criminal Court judge create a Family Court litigation out of rape? Does he have the power to do that?" Murphy said to ABC News.
The state's high court is now considering taking on the case, she said.