Red Bank Middle School Teacher Jonelle Melton Was Murdered in 2009
On a rainy September night in 2009, Red Bank middle school teacher Jonelle Melton was found brutally slain inside her Neptune City apartment. Her killers broke into the wrong unit to commit a drug robbery, but instead killed her.
Melton was a beloved teacher, respected for her dedication to her students and a longtime community member. But her family, prosecutors and police are still trying to understand what happened that evening, and why she was murdered.
Monmouth County Prosecutors announced the conviction Tuesday of three career criminals in the mistaken-identity murder of Melton, a 33-year-old social studies teacher at Red Bank Middle School. Ebenezer Byrd, Gregory Jean-Baptiste and Jerry Spaulding were found guilty of felony murder, conspiracy to commit armed burglary, armed robbery and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Byrd, a 39-year-old Asbury Park man, was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 40 years for his role in Melton’s death. In addition, he was sentenced to two additional 20-year sentences for witness tampering that will run consecutively to his life term, according to the press release from the prosecutor’s office.
One of Melton’s sisters told the judge she was “devastated” by Byrd’s actions, adding she wanted to see him convicted for the heinous act that ruined her sister’s life. Melton had been a loving mother and wife, a dedicated educator who volunteered at her children’s schools. She also was a great aunt and grandmother.
She was a good friend, too. She was involved in her community and was a supporter of Red Bank Middle School.
Her daughter was a student there, too. And she hoped her sister would be able to finish her education there as well.
The judge also praised Byrd’s work as an officer, saying he was “a good example of a person who lives to serve.” In addition to his duties as an officer, he is a mentor to many young men in the district, especially in the juvenile detention center where he works.
He is also involved in a local nonprofit that helps kids and their families navigate the juvenile justice system.
Byrd has a history of making a difference in the community, attending events and delivering care packages. He was also a volunteer with the Red Bank Boys and Girls Club, where he organized a community picnic to raise money for homeless youth.
In addition to his responsibilities as an officer, Byrd is also the chairman of the Red Bank High School football team. He helped lead the school to its first state championship in 2018.
But he also has a long list of other duties, including overseeing the athletic program and serving as the coach for the girls’ track team.
As a teacher, Byrd also teaches his students about the value of discipline and hard work. He says that’s important for kids to learn in order to become productive members of society.
As a result of his commitment to the community, Byrd has been awarded multiple honors and awards, including the Red Bank High School Teacher of the Year and the prestigious New Jersey Department of Education Excellence in Teaching award. He was also recognized as an Exemplary Elementary Educator by the NJDOE.