Prosecutor: Three Men Found Guilty in 2009 Teacher’s Murder

Three men have been found guilty of the 2009 killing of Red Bank Middle School teacher Jonelle Melton, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced on Tuesday.

Ebenezer Byrd, 39, and Gregory A. Jean-Baptiste, 30, both of Asbury Park, and Jerry J. Spraulding, 41, of Keansburg, were each found guilty of all charges in connection with the Sept. 14, 2009 murder of 33-year-old Melton.

The three men were found guilty of: first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree burglary, second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon.

Byrd and Jean-Baptiste were also found guilty of first-degree witness tampering. Byrd and Spraulding were convicted of second-degree certain persons not to possess weapons due to prior convictions involving a weapon.

The verdict comes after two days of deliberations by the jury following a nine-week trial in the courtroom of Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley.

Each of the three men faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison, during which time they would be ineligible for parole, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the provisions of the No Early Release Act (NERA), requiring them to serve 85 percent of any sentence imposed in excess of 30 years prior to becoming eligible for parole.

Spraulding is scheduled to return for sentencing on May 16, 2019 before Judge Oxley. Jean-Baptiste will return on May 23 for sentencing, followed by Bryd who is scheduled to be sentence by Judge Oxley on May 30.

“Today, the jury has delivered another element of closure for Ms. Melton’s family, friends, her students and her community,” Gramiccioni said. “I congratulate the assistant prosecutors, detectives, and support staff who never let up on finding her killers and working so diligently to bring this successful verdict. I know we all worked very hard in memory of Ms. Melton’s passion for life and her commitment to so many people during her lifetime. I’m proud of the efforts of my staff, and I am satisfied in how we took this case to its appropriate end.”

Jonelle Melton was a beloved, veteran school teacher at Red Bank Middle School when she was killed inside her Neptune City apartment. She was an active member of the school community, serving as a member of the School Improvement Team, the Leadership Program at Red Bank Regional High School, and selected to serve as a Student Council Advisor. 

Melton was also an active member of the Christian Woman’s Encouragement Group, and prior to her death was scheduled to officially become a member of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Lake Como during its annual Woman’s Day celebration.

The case background …

The Neptune City Police Department received a 9-1-1 call at 9:07 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2009, reporting the discovery of unresponsive woman in an apartment in the Brighton Arms complex, 311 West Sylvania Ave. in the borough. Officers arrived on scene and found the victim, 33-year old Jonelle Melton, inside of the apartment. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced Melton dead. 

A joint investigation was immediately launched by the Neptune City Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation continued over the course of more than six years, and was one of the first cases to use the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line and reward program. 

As a result of that investigation, detectives learned that Byrd, Jean-Baptiste, Spraulding, and a fourth defendant James Fair planned to burglarize a specific apartment in the Brighton Arms complex.  However, the men broke into the wrong apartment and encountered the victim. At some point after realizing they were in the wrong apartment, the men murdered Melton.

Fair is serving an 82-year prison term in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton as part of a long list of crimes 78 crimes he was convicted of committing in the summer of 2017. Following that conviction, he pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, 2017 to his role in the murder of Jonelle Melton. He was sentence by Judge Oxley on Dec. 21, 2017 and is eligible for release no earlier than Jan. 3, 2065.

The case was prosecuted by Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Bogner and Lawrence Nelsen.  

— Edited press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office