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Judge Refuses To Order Retrial In Sudafed Case Convicted Robber’s Confession Found To Be ‘Totally Incredible’

Associated Press

A federal judge Wednesday denied Sudafed tamperer Joseph E. Meling’s request for a new trial, saying a confession offered by a convicted bank robber was inconsistent and “totally incredible.”

Two Puget Sound-area people died in the 1991 tampering case and Meling’s then-wife nearly died after swallowing a cyanide-filled capsule.

Meling, 35, is serving a life sentence but hoped for a new trial based on a tampering confession offered by Monte Lee Bridges, a fellow inmate at a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore.

“Having carefully reviewed the evidence presented in this matter … having had ample opportunity to assess Bridges’ demeanor while testifying, and being mindful of the quantum of convincing evidence adduced against defendant at trial, the court finds that Bridges’ story lacks credibility,” Judge Barbara Rothstein wrote.

The judge earlier listened to nearly three days of testimony in the new trial request.

Bridges, 59, is serving a five-year, three-month sentence for a bank robbery in Northern California.

U.S. Attorney Katrina Pflaumer welcomed the decision Wednesday, saying the government stands by the evidence it presented at trial. “Meling will remain in prison where he belongs,” she added.

Meling, a former insurance salesman in Tumwater, was convicted of two counts of product tampering causing death, four of nonlethal tampering, two of perjury and three of insurance fraud.

His wife, Jennifer, nearly died after taking a cyanide-filled capsule on Feb. 2, 1991, the day after his $700,000 accidental death policy on her became effective. Kathleen Daneker, 40, of Tacoma, died that Feb. 11 and Stan McWhorter, 40, of Lacey, died seven days later, both of cyanide poisoning, after taking what they thought was Sudafed.

Two tampered Sudafed packages were found in homes and one was recovered from a store during a $17 million nationwide recall.

Jennifer Meling stood by her husband during the trial but later divorced him and said she believed he was responsible.

Bridges and Joseph Meling are inmates in the same no-smoking section of the minimum-security prison at Sheridan, but witnesses testified they never were cellmates and did not appear to be more than casual acquaintances.

Bridges testified that he was upset by the Sudafed deaths, having thought people would avoid swallowing the cyanide capsules because of their slightly different appearance, and became despondent when Meling was sent to prison.

Bridges had a long history of mental problems, admitted changing parts of his confession in ways that shifted much of the blame from himself and gave testimony that contained several inconsistencies, Meling lawyer Cyrus R. Vance Jr. conceded during a hearing earlier this month.

The judge said she had problems with:

Bridges’ description of the poisonous capsules as being larger and of a different color than real Sudafed capsules. Rothstein noted that the substituted cyanide-laced capsules were “extremely similar in appearance to genuine Sudafed capsules. … This discrepancy alone seriously undermines Bridges’ story.”

A written confession Bridges said he left in a plastic container at Wallace Falls State Park, east of Everett, in 1993. The container was found by defense counsel, but only after several wild goose chases. Testimony during the hearing also indicated the container was clear of mold or mildew, unusual for something in the ground for three years.

Bridges’ claims of overwhelming feelings of guilt when people died. The judge said that medical and psychiatric records contradict those claims, and that accounts indicate he was feeling good during much of the past few years.

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