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Gary Melius: One year later, no arrests in Oheka Castle shooting

Speaking publicly on March 10, 2014, for the

Speaking publicly on March 10, 2014, for the first time after he was shot by a mysterious gunman three weeks earlier outside Oheka Castle in Huntington Station, major political donor and developer Gary Melius said: "I want you to know that I'm healing, getting better, and I'm looking forward to just starting over again." Photo Credit: Melius family

A light-colored Jeep Grand Cherokee enters the parking lot. A masked assailant gets out and approaches the nearby Mercedes-Benz with a gun. A Long Island political power broker is wounded in the head.

One year ago Tuesday, Gary Melius was ambushed while sitting in a car at Oheka Castle, his historic Huntington catering hall. No arrests have been reported and police have gone silent on the status of the investigation.

Yet criminal justice experts familiar with the inquiry's public profile say the case is solvable. One suggested renewed publicity could generate new leads, including, for example, if police released video of the shooting.

"All surveillance video has investigative value. It's very important to get that information out there, especially a year into the case," said Joseph Giacalone, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who once commanded the NYPD's Cold Case Squad in the Bronx and directed the agency's school for homicide investigators.

"They should be releasing the video," Giacalone added, saying someone might recognize the shooter's mannerisms or clothing.

Suffolk police answered a recent inquiry by saying nothing will be released until or unless they have "some additional information pertaining to the investigation that serves the investigation by its release."

On Monday, Melius' daughter, Nancy, said in a statement that friends and family are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the shooting.

Anniversary opportunity

Giacalone said anniversaries of crimes are a great chance to remind the public that a case is still open -- especially if an investigation has gone cold, as he said it appears this one has.

"This is a very high-profile case," Giacalone said. "There is no better way to breathe life into a cold case than to give it media attention. The police have a herculean task here because this guy has so many connections and so many business dealings."

Six months into the investigation, a source said that Melius' adopted son, Thomas, now 35, was among those questioned by police as a "person of interest."

Thomas Melius -- a recovering drug addict -- had left a monthslong jail stint five days before the shooting to go into a rehab program.

Attorney Dennis Lemke, who has represented Thomas Melius, said recently that the younger Melius had been cleared by authorities and "is not at all a suspect at this point," echoing comments the elder Melius made in an August interview.

The Feb. 24 shooting, which police called an apparent assassination attempt, happened around lunchtime in Oheka Castle's employee parking lot as video surveillance cameras rolled.

Afterward, Melius, now 70, stumbled from his sedan, according to police sources. The attacker, who had begun to flee, saw Melius was alive and tried to shoot him again, but the gun malfunctioned, the sources have said.

A relative rushed Melius to a hospital, police said, and the shooter escaped and was last seen driving east.

"Being shot was a life-changing experience, and certainly not something that I was prepared for," Melius wrote in a statement to Newsday.

Melius said he had surgery to his skull and also to his left eye, where doctors had to remove glass that had lodged there.

"I had to lay on my side for weeks," Melius said in an email.

He plans to release a video statement about the shooting Tuesday.

Emotional trauma

Living with the trauma of the crime a year later has become challenging in a different way.

"Now that his physical wounds have healed, emotionally, he's living with the idea that there's somebody out there that tried to kill him. And that's difficult to live with," Lemke said.

The ambush also drew attention to the elder Melius' various political and business affairs, with Newsday publishing several stories about these dealings.

Among them was a series of pieces in which Newsday found that Melius and a network of his associates were awarded $900,000 in fees from state court appointments.

State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman cited Newsday's stories in naming a monitor to oversee the system of court appointments in which judges select lawyers to carry out court directives in foreclosures and other matters.

These days, Melius -- who has donated more than $700,000 to Long Island politicians from both major parties since the late 1990s -- considers unfavorable news coverage more painful than the shooting itself.

Melius criticized Newsday for a "malicious attack against me and my family."

Newsday Editor Deborah Henley said the newspaper stands behind its coverage.

Sources said the surveillance video showed the suspect getting out of an older model Jeep Cherokee and heading straight to Melius, who at that point appeared to be in his Mercedes-Benz with the window rolled up. It's unclear whether anyone else was in the Jeep.

The suspect was seen pressing the gun onto the driver's side window before firing the first round, which investigators believe is the shot that hit Melius, the sources said.

The kickback from the shot caused the gun to malfunction and jam, the sources said.

Jeff Noble, a former police deputy chief in Irvine, California, and an attorney who co-wrote a book about police accountability, said police may have run out of leads.

"Unless there is some type of active, workable lead in the case, after a year, it is a cold case that may or may not ever be solved," Noble said.

Giacalone said two major cases on the department's hands -- the Melius shooting and the mystery surrounding the bodies found in the Gilgo Beach area along Ocean Parkway -- should be more prominently displayed on the department's website in order to get more tips.

"Two major incidents and this has got to be more prominent," he said. "Somebody knows something and you want to be able to get to them."

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