3 guilty of fatal beating of Red Bank teacher they mistook for drug dealer
RED BANK — A Monmouth County jury on Tuesday found three men guilty of murder in the 2009 mistaken-identity slaying of teacher Jonelle Melton.
Prosecutors blamed four men, saying she was killed after they robbed the wrong apartment in Neptune City.
Ebenezer Byrd, 39, Gregory A. Jean-Baptiste, 30, both of Asbury Park, and Jerry J. Spraulding, 41, of Keansburg, 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.
Two years ago, James M. Fair, a Bloods gang leader, was sentenced to more than 80 years in prison after he admitted plotting what should have been a robbery of a drug dealer. He also was convicted of other gang-related offenses.
Police received a 911 call on Sept. 14, 2009, reporting the discovery of unresponsive woman in an apartment in the Brighton Arms complex on West Sylvania Ave. Melton's family found her after she failed to show up for work at Red Bank Middle School.
Prosecutors said Melton's mouth was slashed and her body had many cuts and bruises, according coverage of the trial by the Asbury Park Press. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
During the trial, prosecutors said the suspects broke into the apartment they thought belonged to a man who had thousands of dollars in his freezer.
According to the prosecutor's office, it took six years to find the suspects. This was one of the first cases to utilize the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line and reward program.
Byrd and Jean-Baptiste also were found guilty of first-degree witness tampering, while Byrd and Spraulding also were convicted of second-degree certain persons not to possess weapons due to prior convictions involving a weapon.