FREEHOLD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Three men have been charged with the murder of a Red Bank school teacher – six years after the grisly crime was committed.
As CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported, a heartbroken mother and family were in court as prosecutors announced the charges against the three men in the murder of Red Bank Middle School social studies teacher Jonelle Melton, 33.
James Fair, 27, Ebenezer Byrd, 35, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 26, all of Asbury Park, each face several charges, including first-degree felony murder and first-degree robbery.
Melton was killed inside her Neptune City apartment in September 2009, prosecutors said.
“Her children loved her in her school. We loved her. She was my baby sister,” said the victim’s sister, Rachel Haslon. “I miss her.”
“This has been a nightmare for over six years,” said the victim’s husband, Michael Melton.
Investigators believe the men planned to burglarize a specific apartment in the Brighton Arms complex and broke into Melton’s home by mistake. They then brutally beat the woman to death right when they encountered her, prosecutors said.
“As we get information, it’s like a puzzle,” Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni told 1010 WINS. “Each piece of information constitutes a piece of the puzzle, and when you put it all together, the picture becomes clear, and that’s what happened. And we got to the point where we believe we can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt. So we charged them all yesterday (Wednesday).”
The three suspects were all already jailed on unrelated charges. Fair is awaiting trial on a 219-count indictment charging him with racketeering conspiracy, attempted murder, robbery and numerous drug and weapons offenses. Byrd is serving a 12-year prison sentence for two separate Asbury Park shootings in 2009. And Jean-Baptiste is awaiting trial on three separate indictments charging him with drug distribution and gun possession.
When asked what she wanted to say to the killers, Haslon said in sobs: “I can’t – why? Why my sister?”
Teachers who packed the news conference for the announcement of the charges said Melton was a mentor to students – and just a special person.
Investigators said they solved her murder through tips, but said Monmouth County Crime Stoppers reward money is not going out to anyone. They believe more suspects are out there.
“We also know there’s more people out there that can help us with this investigation. We are pleading with you to come forward,” said Michael Melton. “You guys say, ‘Black lives matter.’ Please prove it in this case.”
If convicted, each suspect faces up to 30 years behind bars.
Prosecutors said the $10,000 stoppers reward money is still out there for more information on the case.