There’s a world in which Tina Meliota Cortese envisioned her older sister Barbara Meliota, who would’ve been in her 60’s, on the frontlines of a public health crisis while being an “amazing, fun-loving aunt” to her children.
But Barbara Meliota’s story ended on May 4, 1982, at just 24 and fresh out of Lehman College’s medical program.
On Aug. 13, family members of Meliota — a 24-year-old Montefiore nurse who was was sexually assaulted and beaten to death in 1982 — gave ringing testimonies asking the New York State Parole Board to deny the release of her killer Anthony Doyle, who completed his 20-year sentence. The parole hearing was originally scheduled for August 2020 until COVID-19 postponed the proceedings, and forced the hearing to be held in a virtual setting. A decision on Doyle’s release may not be made until the end of September, according to state parole officials.
Since Doyle became parole-eligible in 2010, the Meliota family has appealed bi-annually to the New York State Parole Board against Doyle’s release.
Doyle, who was denied early release and then parole on two other occasions, is currently an inmate at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Comstock, which is 60 miles north of Albany. Doyle, who was 22 at the time, was charged with second-degree murder and sexual abuse in the first degree.
Attempts by the Bronx Times to reach Doyle and his attorneys were unsuccessful.
Meliota Cortese told the Bronx Times that she has taken it upon herself to represent her sister by holding her killer accountable for the ripple effect that indelibly changed the Meliota family.
“[The hearing] was really tough and very emotional, and we are grateful for so much support,” Cortese said. “Every two years we have to continue to defend our Barbara who cannot speak for herself against her attacker.”
Prior to the hearing, the Meliota family started a petition campaigning against Doyle’s release which garnered 7,341 signatures.
In the words of Meliota Cortese, what happened to her sister on May 4, 1982, “should never happen to any family.”
“It tore us apart and that grief never goes away,” she said. “He did horrible and terrible things to my sister for no reason other than she was a convenient target, and I don’t ever want that to happen to another family, because that loss can never be filled.”
According to police reports and video confession, Doyle, a maintenance worker at the time, bludgeoned and sexually assaulted Meloita on the morning of May 4, before dumping the nurse’s body into the airshaft of Montefiore’s garage.
For Meliota Cortese, the graphic nature of the crime — which included the random yet premeditated nature of the attack and the use of a foot-long metal nozzle of a fire hose — has haunted her family in the 39 years following the tragedy.
“It’s the sheer brutality of what he did to my sister that is jarring,” said Meliota Cortese. “This was planned, premeditated and my sister didn’t have a chance. She went to work that day and lost her life in a way that wrecked and traumatized my family.”
Meliota fell five floors through the shaft, died of blows to the head from the beating and suffered a fractured spine in the fall, according to the chief medical examiner.
NYPD Sgt. Michael Harris, the detective who headed the investigation, said the police thought the killer had planned the crime and that he may have removed the light bulbs in the stairwell, then waited in the darkness for his victim.
Doyle, a Bronx native with two prior robbery arrests, in 1979 and in 1980, made a full confession on videotape to authorities.
Meliota Cortese said that while she does believe in the capacity for forgiveness and redemption, Doyle has not made an attempt to reconcile or reach out with the family since the attack.
Ultimately, while Doyle’s fate remains up in the air, Meliota Cortese said she continues to honor her sister in the way she lived, not the way she died.
“She is much more than just the last day of her life and so much more than the man that killed her,” she said. “She made us smile, she made us laugh, I still hold fond memories of her that will never go away.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.