FREEHOLD – Detectives for the Monmouth Prosecutor’s Office and Neptune City Police have charged three men—already in custody for unrelated charges—in the six-year-old murder of a Red Bank school teacher.
Authorities charged James Fair, 27, Ebenezer Byrd, 35, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 26, all of Asbury Park, each with first degree felony murder, first degree robbery, second degree conspiracy, second degree burglary and a number of weapons offenses, related to the Sept. 14, 2009 death of 33-year-old Jonelle Melton, according to Charles Webster, a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to authorities, Fair is currently incarcerated in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold, awaiting trial on a 219 –count indictment stemming from the county Operation Dead End. Among the charges he faces on this indictment are racketeering conspiracy, attempted murder, robbery and a number of drug- and weapons-related offenses. Byrd is serving a 12-year sentence at New Jersey State Prison, Trenton, for two separate Asbury Park shootings, also occurring in 2009. Jean-Baptiste is being held at the Mercer County Correctional Institution, Hopewell, until his trial on three separate indictments charging him on a number of narcotics distribution and gun possession offenses.
All three remain in custody, with state Superior Court Judge Joseph Oxley setting the defendants’ bail at $1.5 million cash only each and requiring a bail source hearing before they could be released on bond.
Melton, 33, was a seventh grade teacher at the Red Bank Middle School, 101 Harding Road, having worked in the district for a number of years. Melton was well regarded by students, families and colleagues and had been involved in a number of extracurricular activities Her death weighed heavily on the school community, with community members conducting a number of tear-filled vigils and dedications to her memory and officials at the time making grief counselors available for students and staff.
Melton was living in an apartment in the Brighton Arms complex, West Sylvania Avenue, when Neptune City police responded to 911 call at approximately 9:07 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2009. A family member had contacted police after Melton did not report to work and failed to answer her phone and the family member could not get any response at Melton’s front door. Officers found Melton’s unresponsive body in her apartment and shortly after determined cause of death was homicide. The prosecutor’s office at the time said Melton had been beaten to death.
A joint investigation conducted over the six-year period by Neptune and prosecutor’s detectives learned that Fair, Byrd and Jean Batiste allegedly planned to burglarize a specific apartment in Melton’s complex. The three, however, allegedly broke into the wrong apartment, Melton’s, and found her at home. After realizing their error, authorities charged the three brutally murder the woman.
This investigation was one of the first to use the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line and reward program, according to Webster.
The crime stoppers organization operates independently in conjuncture with the national Night Out Against Crime program; but the organization does function with the support of the county freeholders, prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices and the county police chief’s association. It provides an opportunity for the public to supply information anonymously, “No questions asked.” It also uses cash rewards as an incentive for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
For the Melton murder investigation, crime stoppers offered upward of $10,000 for information.
In August, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni took the unusual step of commenting on an ongoing investigation to announce investigators were close to making an arrest given there was “new information” about the crime and that crime stoppers were continuing to offer the reward.
Even with the arrests, the investigation is continuing and authorities are asking anyone with information to contact Det. Scott Samis with the prosecutor’s office at 1-800-533-7443; or Neptune City Police Lieut. Det. Matt Quagliato at 732-775-1615.
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