FREEHOLD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The body of a missing Union County, New Jersey woman has been found after months of searching, and two people have been charged with her murder.
Jennifer Sweeney and Andre Harris, both 32, were charged Tuesday with murder, desecration of human remains and tampering with evidence in the death of Tyrita Julius, 41.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, Julius’ body was found behind a home on Joline Avenue in Long Branch that is owned by Harris. Julius disappeared nearly four months after she survived a shooting.
Bail for Sweeney, of Tinton Falls, and Harris, of Long Branch, was set at $1.5 million cash only. Sweeney and Harris were arraigned on Wednesday, and Julius’ family attended the hearing at the Monmouth County Courthouse wearing black shirts that read, “Team Tyrita.”
“Everybody loves Tyrita,” said the victim’s first cousin. “She’s one of few people in this world you can say nothing bad about, so when she went missing, within an hour. The family was in an uproar.”
Julius was friends with Sweeney through a motorcycle club, according to family. She was last seen March 8 after reportedly being dropped off at the Long Branch train station by Sweeney that evening, prosecutors said.
After not hearing from her daughter, her mother, Queen Julius, called police to report her missing.
Five months later, a joint investigation between several agencies led to the discovery of Julius’ body on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
“Significant efforts were made to bring us to the discovery we all feared — Tyrita Julius died a tragic death,” Christopher Gramiccioni said in a statement. “Tyrita was not dropped off at the Long Branch Train Station. Instead, Tyrita was murdered.”
Police said they have evidence that led them to the Joline Avenue backyard where Julius’ body was found. They said they will reveal the evidence in court.
“During that search in backyard, Tyrita’s body was recovered in a little under three feet soil wrapped in a plastic tarp. Nearby, we recovered a shovel that we believe was used to bury her back there,” Gramiccioni said.
Sweeney’s attorney denied the charges.
“She has maintained her innocence through this very trying period,” said attorney Edward Bertucio.
Wearing “Team Tyrita” shirts, family and friends gathered in Linden on Wednesday morning to console each other after receiving the news. They all had hoped she’d be found alive, 1010 WINS’ Samantha Liebman reported.
The victim’s mother said she is still coming to terms with her daughter’s murder.
“I’m just mad at the whole situation. I’m mad at her, mad at him,” Queen Julius said, referring to Sweeney and Harris.
“Right now we’re at a loss like everybody,” said Claudia Scruggs, the paternal grandmother of the victim’s two teenage children.
Neighbors were disgusted by the news.
“Pretty shocking, crazy,” neighbor Alex Cruz told CBS2’s Baker.
“Absolutely, it’s just by my house,” said neighbor Clayade Ike.
Authorities said Sweeney and Harris are also charged in Union County in connection with a shooting in Linden that left Julius injured in November 2015.
Police said a masked man walked up to her while she was getting into her car on Nov. 24 and fired several shots into the front seat, striking Julius eight times and grazing her 15-year-old daughter.
Police said the shooting was targeted. The gunman fled the scene.
Julius was still in physical therapy from the injuries she sustained in that shooting when she disappeared.
Both suspects are charged with two counts of attempted murder, conspiracy and two counts of weapons offenses in connection with that incident, authorities said. In that case, bail was set at $500,000.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tyrita Julius and extend our most sincere condolences to her friends and family, and we hope that we are able to give them some sense of closure by bringing those responsible for her death to justice,” acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park said in a statement.
An autopsy for Julius was scheduled for Wednesday.
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