A 64-year-old man who served as the Narcotics Anonymous sponsor to a 17-year-old girl in Durango was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting the girl.
It was the maximum sentence allowed under a plea agreement that James Alan Meleski signed with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Meleski, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony sexual assault, apologized for his actions.
“I never made it a point to hurt anyone; that was not my intention,” he said. “ … I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
Prior to sentencing, the victim read an impassioned statement about how the rape thrust her back into drug use, triggered suicidal thoughts and destroyed her trust in someone she trusted deeply.
She and her family asked that Meleski be given the maximum penalty possible.
Deputy District Attorney Brad Neagos said anything less than 10 years unduly depreciates the crime.
Neagos called Meleski a “master manipulator” with a violent past and a 40-year criminal history. He was serving out a previous sentence while living freely in Durango when he sexually assaulted the 17-year-old girl, Neagos said.
The girl trusted him implicitly while working to overcome her own addictions, he said.
“Today, he runs out of chances,” Neagos said.
Public defender Ryan Day said Meleski is also the victim of sexual assault. He never received sufficient therapy or took advantage of services that were made available. He and his client asked for a six-year prison sentence, saying Meleski now realizes the value of therapy and wants to change.
District Judge Anthony Baca handed down the maximum sentence under the plea agreement.
Had Meleski gone to trial and lost, he would have received an indeterminate prison sentence, meaning it would be up to a parole board to decide whether to release him in the future. Baca said the family showed mercy by going along with the plea agreement.
They did it mostly to avoid a yearlong process in the criminal justice system, choosing instead for a speedy resolution so the girl could focus on her recovery and future, said the girl’s mother.
“She deserved to spend every hour of every day reclaiming her one and only precious life,” the mother said. “ … She deserved to pursue her own dreams rather than spend her year trying to ensure that Mr. Meleski receives the full and just punishment for his crimes.”
As the girl’s Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Meleski was in a position of power, Baca said, but he took advantage of that power to groom and manipulate the girl.
Sexual assault services organization (SASO) hotline: 247-5400
- Prevention education programs.
- 24/7 hotline.
Women’s Resource Center: 247-1242
- Computer access.
Southwest Safehouse: 259-5443
- Safe housing for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Colorado Legal Services: 247-0266
- Civil legal services.
The assaults occurred on three separate occasions in September 2022, almost a year after the girl met Meleski in Narcotics Anonymous and he agreed to be her sponsor, according to an arrest affidavit.
A sponsor provides guidance and support to those recovering from alcohol or drugs. They are typically recovering addicts themselves and are familiar with the 12-step program.
In addition to providing support and counseling, sponsors are expected to serve as role models, make themselves available to the sponsee and adhere to strict confidentiality guidelines so that recovering addicts can share their deepest, darkest secrets and struggles.
Step 5 of Narcotics Anonymous is all about confession. Recovering drug addicts are expected to humble themselves, confess their innermost wrongs and share their life stories with another person – often their sponsor.
For many, it is one of the most challenging steps. Addicts must open up to another person about their prior drug use, how they have harmed others, harmed themselves and neglected their responsibilities.
The 17-year-old girl “confessed” to Meleski as part of that step in her recovery.
“The day I did my fifth step, I bared my soul to you,” she said during last week’s sentencing hearing. “I told you everything.”
She told him about her previous drug use, being raped by two boys at school, and her innermost insecurities, fears, regrets, resentments and shame, she said.
The confession was draining but freeing, she said. She felt an acceptance, security and unconditional love after opening up to him.
But then the assault happened.
The girl, now 18, said it is now obvious that Meleski used a program rooted in trust and vulnerabilities to take advantage of her.
“Now when I look back on that memory, all I picture is you filing that stuff away in the back of your head so you could use it later to groom and manipulate me to get what you really wanted out of me,” she said. “ … That memory makes me feel like I’ve never been any of those things to anyone and I never will be.”
She said Meleski isolated her from her friends and family, saying they weren’t good for her emotionally or for her recovery.
“So I distanced myself from them and spent my Friday nights at your place rather than watching (romantic comedy movies) and gossiping over junk food with my school friends,” she said. “I trusted my sponsor like I was taught to do.”
Then, Meleski made his move in a motel room. She said she lay there “paralyzed with fear staring at a dingy drywall ceiling” while the man she trusted raped her.
Meleski warned her not to tell anyone about what had happened. As she tried to process what had happened, she met him on two more occasions, and again he made sexual contact with her, she said.
In the days after the rapes, she had thoughts of suicide, she showered for hours at a time and she cut herself so deep that she need 12 stitches. It was at the hospital that she mustered the strength and courage to tell her mother what had happened, she said.
She had to tell nurses, police officers, prosecutors and take a rape kit exam.
“I had to relive it over and over and over again,” she said.
The sexual assault led to sleep deprivation, an eating disorder, self-harm, panic attacks and relapses in drug use.
“You took away my friends and you took away my dignity and you took away my light. You smothered it,” she said Nov. 7 in the courtroom, with Meleski sitting 30 feet to her left. “ … I lost my joy for life. I lost the curiosity I once had for learning. I lost the want for laughter and friendship. All the color seemed to bleed out of the world. I lost the sparkle in my eyes.”
Since then, the girl said she has spent hours in therapy every week. There are some mornings she can barely force herself out of bed. But with the support of friends and family, she is getting better.
“When the voice in my head tells me I’m weak, I remind myself that I did speak up,” she said. “I survived you.”
Without speaking to Meleski directly, she asked how he, as her sponsor, could take in everything she shared about her past struggles and still chose to rape her.
She asked for the maximum possible sentence to keep the community safe.
“This is not some sort of mistake or miscommunication or the result of a sudden lack of impulse,” she said. “I was sought out, hand-picked, and carefully manipulated, groomed and deceived for 12 months in order for the assaults to be carried out.
“No matter what happens today, I will not leave the courtroom feeling like I won. There is nothing that can be done to undo the damage that was done. I cannot leave this courthouse un-raped.”
About a week after the rapes, the girl worked with the Durango Police Department to build a case against Meleski, including allowing DPD to record a phone call she had with Meleski.
During the call, the girl said she felt badly about what had happened, in part because Meleski had a girlfriend and they were essentially keeping what had happened from her.
Meleski responded by telling the girl not to feel bad, “because of how you feel about me, number one … And because of how I feel about you too,” according to the arrest affidavit.
He then explains that he has been experiencing “red flags” with his girlfriend, but “I have no red flags with you.”
They speak in vague terms about sexual encounters, to which Meleski says, “We just have to be normal.”
He ends the call by saying, “I don’t feel like we did nothing wrong.”