Sex offender charged in boy's death

Body of child, 11, was found in woods near his Northeast Baltimore home


A registered sex offender with a history of abusing children was arrested and charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the death of an 11-year-old Northeast Baltimore boy whose family he had befriended.

The accused, Melvin L. Jones Jr., 52, had been on supervised probation since being released from prison in September 2002, after a third-degree sex offense conviction earlier that year. Unknown to his parole and probation agents, Jones soon began baby-sitting Irvin J. Harris and his siblings - a violation of the terms of his probation.

Irvin, a bright boy with a big smile who loved to dance and sing, disappeared Friday afternoon as he headed to the Belair Food Market to buy a snowball, his family said. His body was found early yesterday across the street from Clifton Park Golf Course, in the woods behind a church a block from his home on Lawnview Avenue.

A statement of charges filed last night in District Court said Jones had called his own daughter and the sister of the boy on the telephone, saying where he could be found behind the church on Belair Road. An autopsy determined the body had multiple stab wounds, the statement said. A source close to the investigation said detectives have found what they believe to be the weapon.

Acting on an anonymous tip, police arrested Jones yesterday afternoon as he stood in line at a downtown McDonald's restaurant.

Last night, detectives escorted Jones out of the lobby of police headquarters and into a van to take him to the city jail.

He kept his head down and said "no comment" to reporters.

Neighbors said they saw Irvin walking with Jones shortly before the boy went missing.

Shanda Harris, 41, Irvin's mother, said Jones was "like a male role model" to Irvin and baby-sat him and his siblings for years as she worked through a drug treatment program. She said she became aware of Jones' 2002 conviction about a year ago but continued to let him spend time with her family. "I thought that everyone could change, and I see now I was really wrong," she said.

She said she never suspected Jones of molesting any of her six children. Police would not say yesterday whether Irvin's body showed signs of abuse.

Time and again, Baltimore court records show, Jones - who told police during an interview in August 2001 that he was "a pedophile who needed help" - escaped serious prison time in cases of sexual abuse.

Jones' first arrest, at age 16 in 1970, was on a charge of rape, said Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the city state's attorney's office. A second-degree sex offense charge followed in 1989. City prosecutors dropped both of those cases but could not say why yesterday.

Jones was convicted in 1990 of child sexual abuse and sentenced to seven years in prison, with all but seven months and seven days suspended. Details about that case were unclear yesterday.

Jones was charged in 1994 with indecent exposure, a conviction that netted him nine months, plus an additional two years for violating the terms of his probation in the 1990 case.

In May 2000, Jones' sister called police to report that her daughter - Jones' niece - had been abused by Jones for four years, beginning when she was 4 years old, court documents show.

The alleged abuse took place at Jones' mother's house in the 3500 block of Old Frederick Road in Southwest Baltimore. That's where Jones has lived for years, according to court records, and that is the residence listed for him on the state's sex offender registry.

The 2000 case was not pursued because the victim's mother and Jones' parents wrote letters saying they would testify that he had never been alone with the girl, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

In the 2002 case, Jones was convicted of sexually abusing a teenage boy for a year and a half. Beginning in January 2000 when the boy was 13 and ending in July 2001 when he told his mother and police what was happening, the boy engaged in about 10 consensual sex acts with Jones, court documents say. The boy said he had met Jones while walking home from school along the 3500 block of Old Frederick Road.

Jones pleaded guilty in January 2002 to two counts of third-degree sex offense. A Sun review of an official court tape of that proceeding shows that defense attorney Gregg Fischer, Assistant State's Attorney Adam C. Rosenberg and Circuit Judge Allen L. Schwait discussed the plea agreement at a bench conference.

"He's had sex with little boys before," Rosenberg told the judge. Schwait reviewed Jones' criminal record and concluded: "He has a real history of this with his priors, doesn't he?"

The three then agreed to give Jones a plea deal of a year in prison. The sentence was two concurrent terms of 10 years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and five years of supervised probation with special conditions.

That's about the best outcome any prosecutor could have hoped for in the case, Rosenberg said yesterday after reviewing his personal file on Jones.

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