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Man Who Blamed Voices in His Head Convicted of Murdering Neighbor Girl

November 23, 1991 GMT

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) _ A man who said voices in his head commanded him to rape and suffocate a 13- year-old neighbor girl last year was convicted Saturday of murder after a jury rejected his insanity defense.

The judge let loose on Henry L. Meinholz Jr., 53, after the verdict was read.

″Your despicable efforts to add a stigma on the memory of this child only adds to the enormity of your crime,″ Superior Court Judge Cortland Mathers told Meinholz, referring to his graphic testimony that the girl willingly participated in sex before her death.

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Meinholz wasn’t charged with sexual assault. Prosecutors said the condition of Melissa Benoit’s body had severely deteriorated by the time it was discovered in Meinholz’s cellar.

Mathers noted that in colonial times, a person convicted of Meinholz’s crime would have been hanged in the public square.

″I truly regret this option is not open to me in this case,″ Mathers said.

Meinholz faces life in prison without parole. Had the jury accepted his insanity defense, he would have been confined to Bridgewater State Hospital.

Meinholz’s lawyer, Jack Atwood, said Friday in his closing statement that Meinholz is ″not even half sane. He’s totally insane.″

Prosecutor Joseph Gaughan told the jury: ″This guy has fooled people for 30 years. He is trying to fool you. Don’t be fooled.″

Meinholz, a bookkeeper, Navy veteran and former church deacon, was the sole defense witness. He testified Thursday that he had a history of sexual deviance spanning 40 years.

Meinholz said he first heard a voice in his head Sept. 15, 1990, when he spotted Melissa returning from her father’s grave in a cemetery behind their homes in Kingston, a rural community of about 9,000 people.

Asked what the voice said, Meinholz testified: ″You’re not a man unless you rape her.″

Meinholz said the same voice instructed him to smother the eighth-grader with a blanket and bury her in his cellar. He said he had never heard the voice before and has heard it only once since the murder.

Melissa’s family has known Meinholz since 1978, when he moved into the house next door.

Meinholz testified his past included rape fantasies and sexual abuse of young women. He said he initiated a sexual relationship with a younger sister when he was 12.

As an adult, he said, he frequently exposed himself, fondled girls he picked up hitchhiking and made obscene telephone calls. He also described having sex with a teen-ager after pulling a knife on her in 1980.