A Monmouth County grand jury returned a nine-count indictment against four men charged with the 2009 killing of a beloved Red Bank school teacher found dead in her Neptune City apartment, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced on Monday.
James M. Fair, 28, Ebenezer Byrd, 36, and Gregory A. Jean-Baptiste, 27, all of Asbury Park, and Jerry J. Spraulding, 38, of Keansburg, are named in the indictment charging each of the men in connection with the Sept. 14, 2009 death of 33-year-old Jonelle Melton.
Melton was a 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 was selected to serve as a Student Council advisor.
Melton was also an active member of the Christian Woman’s Encouragement Group, and was scheduled to officially become a member of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Lake Como during its annual Woman’s Day celebration.
All four men are charged with second degree conspiracy, second-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, first-degree felony murder, second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon.
Byrd and Jean-Baptiste have been charged additionally with first-degree tampering with a witness. Byrd and Spraulding face additional charges of second-degree certain persons not to possess weapons.
The background of the case …
The Neptune City Police Department received a 911 call at 9:07 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2009, reporting the discovery of unresponsive woman in an apartment in the Brighton Arms complex, at 311 West Sylvania Ave., Neptune.
Officers arrived on scene and found the victim, 33-year old Jonelle Melton, inside the apartment. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced Melton dead.
A joint investigation, immediately launched by the Neptune City Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, continued over the course of more than six years and was one of the first to implement the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line and reward program.
As a result of that investigation, detectives learned that Fair, Byrd, Jean-Baptiste and Spraulding had planned to burglarize a specific apartment in the Brighton Arms complex. However, the men broke into the wrong apartment and encountered Melton, the victim. At some point after realizing they were in the wrong apartment, the men murdered Melton.
All defendants are being held on $1.5 million cash-only bail, with a bail source hearing required before they can be released, as set by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley.
If convicted of felony murder, each man 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.
If convicted of first-degree robbery, each man faces a maximum of 20 years in state prison, subject to the provisions of NERA, and if convicted of second-degree conspiracy or second-degree burglary, each man faces up to 10 years in state prison, also subject to the provisions of NERA.
If convicted of first-degree tampering with a witness, Byrd and Jean-Baptiste face up to 20 years in state prison.
If convicted of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose or unlawful possession of a firearm, each man faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment on each charge, subject to a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of the greater of either half of the sentence imposed or 42 months.
If convicted of second-degree certain persons, Byrd and Spraulding face up to 10 years in state prison with a mandatory five-year period of parole ineligibility.
The case is being prosecuted by Monmouth County First Assistant Prosecutor Marc C. LeMieux and Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Bogner.
Byrd is represented by Paul Zager, Esq., of Red Bank. Jean-Baptiste is represented by Robert Konzelmann, Esq., of Howell. Spraulding is represented by Carlos Diaz-Cobo, Esq., of New Brunswick. Fair is represented by James Leonard, Esq., of Atlantic City.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and state law.
— Edited press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office