FREEHOLD – About 10 years ago, thugs decided to rob a drug dealer's house, but things went awry when they mistakenly went to the apartment of a beloved teacher.
When the burglars realized their mistake, they killed Jonelle Melton, a 33-year-old social science teacher at Red Bank Middle School, authorities said.
Now, three men accused of murdering her are on the verge of being tried for murder and other charges.
The jury selection is set to begin on Tuesday for the trial of Ebenezer Byrd, 39, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 30, both of Asbury Park, and 41-year-old Jerry J. Spaulding. , from Keyport.
Each of the three men has a serious criminal record.
Melton was found murdered in her apartment in the Brighton Arms complex in Neptune on September 14, 2009, found by her ex-husband, Michael, also an educator in the Red Bank school system.
He went to his apartment to watch her when she did not show up for work.
Authorities said Melton was beaten and shot.
Monmouth County District Attorney Christopher J. Gramiccioni described the victim as a "model citizen" loved by students and colleagues.
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His murder was not resolved until November 2015, when Byrd, Jean-Baptiste and another man, James Fair, were arrested and charged. Charges were laid against Spaulding in January.
Gramiccioni, in announcing the arrests, said that Melton had been killed in a mistaken identity case, when the men realized that they had robbed the wrong apartment.
Fair, 30, a notorious band leader of Asbury Park, pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to commit a robbery in the Melton case. In making his admission, he stated that his involvement was limited to communicating information to others about a drug dealer that he knew had money in his freezer. He insisted that he was not involved in the robbery and that it had nothing to do with the murder.
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Fair, a leader of a group of the Bloods, is currently serving an 82-year sentence for his role in the Melton case and for 79 other unrelated crimes for which he was convicted in 2017 to the end of a long trial as part of "Operation Dead End". Investigation of the multiform criminal activities of gang members in Asbury Park and the surrounding area.
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Byrd, Jean-Baptiste and Spaulding are to be tried at the Monmouth County Courthouse before Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley, the same judge who presided over the "Dead End" case.
The case will be presented by Matthew Bogner and Larry Nelson, Deputy Attorneys for Monmouth County.
Byrd is represented by Red Bank lawyer Paul Zager; Jean-Baptiste is represented by Newark's lawyer, Mark A. Bailey; and Spaulding is represented by Brick's lawyer, Robert P. Ward.
The trial is expected to last about four to six weeks.
The defendants are charged with murder, conspiracy, armed robbery, armed robbery, possession of a weapon for illegal purposes and unlawful possession of a weapon.
If convicted of murder, the defendants would be at risk of at least 30 years in prison with no possibility of parole, up to life imprisonment.
Kathleen Hopkins, 732-643-4202; Khopkins@app.com