By Julie Manganis
---- — DANVERS — Just moments after Danvers Patrolman John Melto, choked with emotion, described the impact on himself and his family of Roy Limbaugh’s near-fatal attack on him nearly two years ago, Limbaugh was unrepentant.
”Officer Melto gets up there and he’s crying and he’s saying, ‘my wife and my family,’” Limbaugh said in a mocking tone, never acknowledging that but for a few millimeters, he might have been standing trial for murder.
Limbaugh, 59, was convicted yesterday in Salem Superior Court of seven charges, including attempted murder and failing to register as a sex offender, and was sentenced to 24 to 26 years in state prison by a judge who repeated his original assessment of the case from nearly two years ago.
”It was a murder where the victim didn’t happen to die,” Judge Howard Whitehead said yesterday during Limbaugh’s sentencing for the Aug. 19, 2011 attack. “The only time I’ve seen pictures of neck injuries that were as serious as these, they were autopsy photos.”
They were inflicted, said the judge, by “a person who has concluded either that the rules don’t apply to him or that he’s following the rules and people are misperceiving that.”
”Mr. Limbaugh is, quite frankly, a menace to society and a menace to those he encounters who anger him,” Whitehead said. “His attitude is, ‘I’m right and they’re wrong.’ It’s never Mr. Limbaugh’s fault, it’s the fault of the world.”
Even after the jury of seven men and five women returned its verdict shortly before 11 a.m., following about 4 1/2 hours of deliberations, Limbaugh maintained that he, not Melto, was the victim; that the “green” jury, “totally ignorant of the law,” had gotten it wrong; and that the prosecution hadn’t proven the case.
”This conviction right now is void,” Limbaugh told the judge, vowing to pursue appeals to the Supreme Judicial Court and in federal court.
After Limbaugh’s 20-minute lecture to the judge, his standby counsel, Joseph Collins, could only urge the judge to consider Limbaugh’s mental-health history, which includes a diagnosis of personality disorders, and his advancing age, in sentencing.
Prosecutor Gerald Shea said Limbaugh has already been shown far too much leniency for past crimes — including his 1997 conviction for attempted rape and a 2003 conviction for resisting arrest. In that incident, he was found to have reached for a 12-inch knife while officers in Tiverton, R.I., were attempting to arrest him. His record also includes a conviction for Social Security fraud and at least two prior failures to register as a sex offender.
”Mr. Limbaugh believes he can get away with anything he wants,” Shea told the judge, going on to describe how he flouted even the most mundane of laws, for example when he attached old, canceled license plates to his Volkswagen Jetta after his registration was revoked for lack of insurance.
Shea argued that Limbaugh was even more dangerous because as an aging man, he might catch many people off guard.
”Beneath that exterior appearance is a man with very dangerous instincts,” said Shea.
John Melto had no idea just how dangerous Limbaugh was on the morning of the attack, when the officer went to the door of Limbaugh’s trailer on Popes Lane in Danvers to try to convince him to surrender himself on a pair of relatively minor warrants.
”I was savagely attacked by Roy Limbaugh, who attempted to kill me by slashing my neck,” Melto said during a victim impact statement. “As a police officer I know that risks come with my job, but I never imagined someone coming at me totally unprovoked.”
He had no idea how serious his injuries were when he jumped back into his cruiser in an attempt to pursue Limbaugh, who had sped off — an action the judge praised as “a true act of courage.”
”When I saw pictures of my injuries, I don’t know how I survived,” said Melto.
The attack has left the officer and his family — a wife and four children — dealing with physical, emotional and financial hardships, he said.
”If a man like Roy Limbaugh can attack an armed police officer, just imagine what he could or would do to an unarmed person on the street,” said Melto, who urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence available.
On the attempted murder charge, Limbaugh will serve 19 to 20 years in prison, the maximum penalty on that charge. He received concurrent terms for the charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest, as well as two charges stemming from his driving without a license or registration.
That sentence will be followed by a five- to six-year prison term for his failure to register as a sex offender.
Limbaugh received credit for the time he’s spent in custody awaiting trial, but will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least 24 years.