War Crime

A Russian émigré falls victim to the battle in Iraq

As he watched the Iraq war on television, John Komyakevich had no idea he was about to become a casualty of the conflict.

The 33-year-old Russian immigrant sat inside Margarita's, a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood pub he managed on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. The clock was approaching 11 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, the fourth day of the war. With him in the narrow, dimly lit room were a couple of patrons and Walter Peretto, a soft-spoken, bespectacled bartender. Other than the CNN war coverage, which Komyakevich likened to a drug, everything seemed normal enough.

The trouble had already left the building. Ron Mellor, a 61-year-old former Marine, had walked out in a rage after an argument over the war with Komyakevich. Several American soldiers, some captured and some dead, had been shown on Al Jazeera that day. As a former military man, Mellor was outraged. Komyakevich, an easy-going soccer aficionado, told him it's hard to complain about what happens to your soldiers when you invade somebody else's country.

Mellor's homicidal smirk remained intact for his police mugshot (right), and, at left, Komyakevich
Mellor's homicidal smirk remained intact for his police mugshot (right), and, at left, Komyakevich

"John just sat calmly at the bar, looking up at the television and occasionally making a comment," Peretto told me when I visited Margarita's last week. "He rarely looked away from the TV. And Ron was just becoming furious. John never seemed to realize the threat."

When Mellor, who had about nine drinks that day, aggressively approached Komyakevich, the bartender stepped in. "Ron was trying to get around me -- it was like football," recalled Peretto. "It was like I was an offensive lineman. At one point, Ron said, 'Let me get around you, I swear I won't cold-cock him.' And John sat there looking at the TV and talking. I said, 'John, shut up.'"

Eventually, Komyakevich, who didn't have anything to drink that night, instructed Peretto to call the police. Mellor left. Rather than dial 911, the bartender locked the back door. "Ron seemed determined," Peretto said. "I thought he might come back. But a gun? I never thought that was possible. Fists? Oh yeah. Maybe even a knife. But not a gun."

Peretto told me the rest of the story. Ten minutes later, the six-foot-two, gray-haired Mellor returned through the unlocked front door, walked determinedly down the bar toward Komyakevich and lifted his silver-colored Smith and Wesson 9mm pistol.

"John!" Peretto warned.

But it was too late.

"Ron started shooting in a very methodical way," Peretto told me. "It was bang ... bang ... bang ... bang."

The first shot hit the bar but missed Komyakevich, who rose up from his stool to see Mellor coming at him. The second shot seemed to hit the Russian in the stomach. Komyakevich grasped his side and let out a scream of horror and pain, then turned and made a break for the back door. With cold determination, Mellor kept walking and firing the pistol, the bullets piercing Komyakevich's back.

The manager collapsed before he made it to the locked exit. He never had a chance. Mellor stood over him and fired his gun one last time. A chip in the rock tile floor still marks the spot made by the bullet.

Mellor shot seven times, hitting his target with five bullets, according to police.

"After Ron was done, he turned around and he had a smirk on his face, like he was looking for a reaction," Peretto said. "It was like he was fulfilling something, he was defending what he believed in. I felt that he believed he was doing the right thing."

Without a word, Mellor walked out of the bar, climbed into his gray 1989 Cadillac, and drove to the nearby house on J Street where he lived alone. He laid the gun, which still had a bullet in the chamber and eight more in the 18-round magazine, on his television set and calmly called 911. He told the dispatcher that he'd just killed a man "over the war," according to police reports. Lake Worth detectives arrived and, without incident, booked Mellor into the Palm Beach County Jail, where he remains on a first-degree murder charge.

"He was on a mission," Peretto said. "He was a Marine. He was a trained killer and he was on a mission."

The patrons I spoke with during my visit last week described Mellor as a man who would drink and argue incessantly, as if he had a war raging in his very being. They said he had particular scorn for immigrants and liberals.

But Frank Mace, a regular at Margarita's who witnessed the shooting, said he didn't think the shooting had anything to do with Iraq. Having known Mellor for more than a decade, he said it was just a stupid act by an angry drunk. "He did what he did because it was the last bar in town to get kicked out of," Mace angrily told me. "This had nothing to do with the war, but you'll write whatever you want to make up anyway."

Peretto quietly disagreed.

"This was a political assassination," the bartender said bluntly. "There is no question about it. The really sad thing is that Ron became, in that moment, exactly like Saddam Hussein."

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