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Wednesday, March 17, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Prosecutors Say Meling Shielded By His Parents -- `Conspiracy' Alleged In Tampering Case

A "tightly knit family conspiracy" helped shield product-tampering suspect Joseph Meling from the FBI's investigation in the 1991 Sudafed-poisoning case, according to a federal prosecutor.

In U.S. District Court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Maida said tape-recorded conversations show several members of Meling's family were "actively talking about this investigation on a day-by-day basis."

The secretly made recordings resulted from a court-authorized telephone tap and hidden microphone placed at the Vancouver, Wash., home of Sonny and Velma Meling, Joseph Meling's parents, with whom he was living in the spring of 1991.

Joseph Meling, 31, is charged with killing two people and the near-fatal poisoning of his wife, Jennifer, in February 1991. Prosecutors say he placed capsules containing sodium cyanide in packages of 12-Hour Sudafed cold remedy.

He is charged with six counts of product tampering, two counts of perjury and three counts of insurance fraud. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

A legal dispute over the admissibility of about a dozen recorded conversations resulted in a half-day delay in Meling's trial yesterday.

In arguments made while jurors were out of the courtroom, Cyrus Vance Jr., one of Meling's attorneys, objected to admitting some of the conversations because the defendant was not a participant in them. Vance argued that they amounted to "hearsay" testimony.

In a few cases, the defense objected to recorded conversations in which Joseph Meling did participate, but in which there also were references to what was said by third parties - again causing the defense's "hearsay" objection.

But Maida said all of the conversations offered by the government help paint a picture of a family discussing in detail various aspects of the investigation of Joseph Meling.

"The family is in on this . . . explaining away evidence," Maida told U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein, who is presiding over the trial.

Maida's implication was that, at a minimum, the family obstructed the government's investigation of Joseph Meling. But no such charges have been filed.

Asked by the judge what independent evidence the government had to support its theory of a family conspiracy, Maida replied that the "statements themselves are evidence of the conspiracy."

The contested conversations add up to less than an hour of the roughly 4 1/2 hours of tapes that the government planned to present as a "composite" tape.

That tape was condensed from thousands of hours of surveillance. The Melings' telephone was bugged from April 11 to June 10, 1991. A microphone placed in the home was active from May 22 to June 22 that year.

Prosecutors are in their final stages of presenting their evidence in the trial, which opened March 1.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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