Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said James Fair, 27, Ebenezer Byrd, 35, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 26, all of Asbury Park, are each charged with first degree Felony Murder, first degree Robbery, second degree Conspiracy, second degree Burglary, second degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon and second degree Certain Persons Not to Possess Weapons, in connection with the Sept. 14, 2009 death of 33-year-old Jonelle Melton, who worked in Red Bank as a teacher.
Neptune City Public Safety Director Ed Kirschenbaum said every lead was followed, every type of evidence was examined.
“No one quit on this case since it happened,” he said. “It was a total team effort.”
Kirschenbaum said law enforcement never stopped working on the case. He credited the resolution of the case to the good working relationship with the prosecutor’s office as well as some assistance from the public, the Crime Stoppers program and social media.
Following an investigation detectives learned that Fair, Byrd, and Jean-Baptiste 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 brutally murdered Melton.
All three men are currently incarcerated on unrelated charges. Fair is awaiting trial on a 219-count indictment charging him with Racketeering Conspiracy, Attempted Murder, Robbery, and numerous other drug and weapons offenses, arising out of “Operation Dead End.” Byrd is currently serving a 12-year state prison sentence for two separate Asbury Park shootings which also occurred in 2009. Jean-Baptiste awaits trial on three separate indictments charging him with drug distribution and gun possession.
Fair is currently being held at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold Township. Byrd is being held at New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton, and Jean-Baptiste is being held at the Mercer County Correctional Institution, in Hopewell Township. 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.
Melton was a 33-year-old 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; as a member of the School Improvement team, the Leadership Program at Red Bank Regional High School, and selected to serve as the Student Council Advisor.
Melton was 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.
Neptune City Police Department received a 911 call around 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. Monmouth Ocean Hospital Services Corporation (MONOC) paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced Melton deceased.
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 the past six years, and was one of the first cases to utilize the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line and reward program.
As a result of that investigation, detectives learned that Fair, Byrd, and Jean-Baptiste 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 brutally murdered Ms. Melton.
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.
Notwithstanding these arrests, the investigation into the murder is ongoing and detectives continue to pursue additional leads. Anyone with information related to this investigation should contact Detective Scott Samis of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 1-800-533-7443 or Detective Lieutenant Matt Quagliato of the Neptune City Police Department at 732-775-1615.