Byrd receives life sentence plus 40 years for 2009 Murder of Jonelle Melton

FREEHOLD – An Asbury Park man was sentenced to a life in prison plus an additional 40 years for his role in the 2009 killing of Red Bank Middle School teacher Jonelle Melton who was found dead in her Neptune City apartment, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

On June 6, 2019, Ebenezer Byrd, 39, of Asbury Park, was sentenced to life in a New Jersey State Prison by the Honorable Judge Joseph W. Oxley, plus 2 additional 20 year sentences for Witness Tampering that will run consecutively to the life imprisonment charge. This sentence was ordered to run consecutively to the sentence Byrd is currently serving for Attempted Murder that arose out of an unrelated shooting in October 2009.

Byrd, along with Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 30, of Asbury Park, and Jerry J. Spraulding, 41, of Keansburg, were each found guilty on all counts, on March 12, 2019, in connection with the Sept. 14, 2009 murder of 33-year-old Melton. The three men 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. Additionally, Byrd and Jean-Baptiste were found guilty of first degree Witness Tampering. Byrd and Spraulding were also convicted of second degree Certain Persons Not to Possess Weapons due to prior convictions involving a weapon.

Byrd is the final person to be sentenced in the case. Spraulding was sentenced to life in prison on May 23, 2019 and Jean-Baptiste was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years by Judge Oxley on May 30.

Jonelle Melton was a beloved, veteran school teacher at Red Bank Middle School when she was brutally killed inside her Neptune City apartment.  She was an active member of the school community, serving as a member of the School Improvement Team, the Leadership Program at Red Bank Regional High School, and was selected to serve as a Student Council Advisor.

Melton was also an active member of the Christian Woman’s Encouragement Group, and prior to her death was scheduled to officially become a member of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Lake Como during its annual Woman’s Day celebration.

The Neptune City Police Department received a 9-1-1 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.  Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced Ms. 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 more than six years, and was one of the first cases to utilize the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line.

As a result of that investigation, detectives learned that Byrd, Jean-Baptiste, Spraulding, and a fourth defendant, James Fair, 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.

Fair is serving an 82-year prison term in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton as part of a long list of 78 crimes he was convicted of committing in the summer of 2017. Following that conviction, he pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, 2017 to his role in the murder of Jonelle Melton. He was sentence by Judge Oxley on Dec. 21, 2017 and is eligible for release no earlier than Jan. 3, 2065.

The case was prosecuted by Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Bogner and Lawrence Nelsen.  

Byrd was represented by Paul Zager, Esq., of Red Bank.

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