NJ Mother calls for justice in Las Vegas bodybuilders slaying case
By KEN RITTER
Associated Press Writer
December 27, 2005, 5:07 PM EST
LAS VEGAS -- A New Jersey mother whose daughter's body was found in a professional bodybuilder's burned-out luxury car called Tuesday for justice, while three suspects in the slaying appeared in courts in Massachusetts and Nevada.
"Whoever did this, I want them to pay," Maura James, 51, said of the slaying of her daughter, Melissa James, 28, a former fitness instructor and live-in personal aide to Craig Titus and his wife, Kelly Ryan.
Titus, 40, and Ryan, 33, pleaded innocent Tuesday to fugitive charges in Stoughton, Mass., and said they would fight transfer to Nevada. A Stoughton District Court judge ordered the couple held without bond pending a Jan. 12 status hearing on authorities' attempts to return them to Las Vegas.
Titus faces Nevada state charges of murder, accessory to murder and third-degree arson, according to a warrant issued Dec. 20 in Las Vegas. Ryan faces charges of accessory to murder and third-degree arson.
Anthony Gross, 23, appeared in a Las Vegas court by videoconference and was not asked to enter a plea in his initial appearance on charges of accessory to murder and third-degree arson.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe M. Bonaventure set bail at $13,000 and told Gross and his lawyer, Michael Sanft, that if Gross posts bail he must remain under house arrest pending a preliminary hearing April 6.
Prosecutor Robert Daskas said Gross is expected to face trial with Titus, who won a 1996 bodybuilding championship and competed in Mr. Olympia events, and Ryan, a past Fitness America and Fitness International winner and Fitness Olympia runner-up.
James' mother declined to talk about the charges against Titus, Ryan and Gross, but spoke in a telephone interview from her home in Lambertville, N.J., of the loss of her daughter.
"She was a good person, sweet, kind, considerate," Maura James said. "This should have never happened to her."
James' body was found early Dec. 14 in the trunk of Ryan's abandoned and burned-out Jaguar sedan. Authorities say Gross bought a can of gasoline and followed in his pickup as Titus allegedly drove the Jaguar to a remote desert highway outside Las Vegas, took the gas and set the car on fire.
Gross told police he drove Titus back to Las Vegas, but they did not discuss what happened. Gross was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas.
In interviews with police before they left Nevada, neither Titus nor Ryan admitted involvement with James' slaying. But court records show Titus told Las Vegas police he'd had a secret romance with James.
Maura James said her daughter never told her or family members in Panama City, Fla., of any romance with Titus or problems in Las Vegas.
Melissa James lived with her father, brother and sister in Panama City Beach, Fla., until she moved to Las Vegas in October to live with Titus and Ryan and help them launch a clothing line.
"She sounded happy. She didn't sound like there was anything wrong," Maura James said of the last conversation she had with her daughter by cellphone on Dec. 13.
Maura James went to Newark Liberty International Airport on Dec. 14 to pick her daughter up on a flight from Las Vegas, but she never arrived.
"She was planning to come home to spend Christmas with her family," the mother said. "She had a return ticket Dec. 30 to Las Vegas. She never got on the plane."
James' body was found with a fabric around her neck and duct tape across her face, according to court documents. Police say Ryan was seen a few hours before the fire buying seven cans of charcoal starter at a Wal-Mart store in Las Vegas.
Maura James said a Clark County coroner's officer told her Melissa James was asphyxiated. The mother said plans for burial in Florida were incomplete.
In documents filed to obtain an arrest warrant, police said Titus told a business partner he intended to meet a friend in Boston, liquidate his assets and leave the country.
Titus and Ryan were arrested Friday by federal agents and local police at a shopping center in Stoughton, where authorities said Ryan was getting her nails done and Titus was sitting in a vehicle in the parking lot. Stoughton is about 15 miles south of Boston.
Titus had shaved his head, and Ryan had dyed her hair a dark color. They were held on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newjersey/ny-bc-nj--bodybuilders-slay1227dec27,0,6716993.story