FREEHOLD – A Monmouth County jury has returned guilty verdicts against the Tinton Falls woman who arranged to have her girlfriend shot numerous times nearly six years ago, hospitalizing her, before then fatally strangling her several months later and burying her body in a Long Branch backyard, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced Friday.
Jennifer Sweeney, 38, was convicted on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, three related weapons offenses, second-degree desecration of human remains, and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence in connection with the death of 41-year-old Tyrita Julius of Linden. The conviction marked the culmination of an approximately month-long trial before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman.
“The suffering endured by Tyrita Julius at the hands of someone who was supposed to care for her during the last several months of her life was unspeakable, and while today’s verdict can’t bring Tyrita back, we hope it offers some sense of solace and closure to her friends and family,” Prosecutor Linskey said. “I’d also like to recognize and thank the many police agencies in Monmouth and Union counties that contributed to this investigation, which featured a great number of moving parts and stands out as an excellent example of the power of collaboration in law enforcement.”
At approximately 7:16 p.m. on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, members of the Linden Police Department in Union County responded to the 900 block of Middlesex Street in Linden on a report of a shooting. Upon their arrival, officers found Julius, who had been shot eight times, in the driver’s seat of her vehicle, which was located after colliding with a utility pole a short distance from her residence. The victim’s teenage daughter was seated in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, having also sustained a gunshot wound.
The investigation into the shooting was ongoing when, on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, Julius’s mother reported her daughter missing to both the Linden Police Department and the Long Branch Police Department. Authorities were told at that time that Tyrita had been spending time with a female friend in Tinton Falls the day before, but failed to return home later that evening.
Investigators from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Linden Police Department contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office about the investigation on the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2016, and a joint investigation by members from those agencies, as well as the Union County Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office, and the Long Branch, Tinton Falls, and New Jersey Transit police departments was initiated.
As a result, on Tuesday, August 16, 2016, Julius’s body was discovered by detectives during the course of a search of the Long Branch residence of 37-year-old Andre Harris – the gunman in the November 2015 shooting of Julius. The victim’s remains were discovered buried in the backyard, wrapped in two garbage bags, with an electrical cord around her neck. Sweeney and Harris were subsequently arrested and charged, with a Monmouth County grand jury returning an indictment against each in December 2016.
Harris later reached a plea agreement for a New Jersey State Prison term of 16 years, with 85 percent to be served before the possibility of parole under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, and agreed to testify during Sweeney’s trial. Sweeney now faces a term of up to life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for Friday, November 19, 2021.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutors Christopher J. Decker and Caitlin Sidley of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office’s Major Crimes Bureau. Sweeney was represented by Edward C. Bertucio and W. Les Hartman of Kalavruzos, Mumola, Hartman, Lento & Duff in Hamilton, New Jersey.