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Three men charged in 2009 murder of Red Bank teacher

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NEPTUNE CITY, N.J. — Three men have been charged with murder and charges related to the unsolved murder of a New Jersey teacher in 2009.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramicciono announced Thursday that James Fair, 27, Ebenezer Byrd, 26, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 26, all of Asbury Park, were charged with first degree felony murder along with robbery, possession of a weapon and conspiracy.  All three men are currently in prison on unrelated charges.

"It was a case of mistaken identity and location,” said Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni.

The men were charged with the murder of Jonelle Melton, 33, a middle school teacher at Red Bank Middle School. Outside of the classroom, she was active in a local women’s Christian group.

Melton was killed in her Neptune City apartment on Sept. 14, 2009.

During the investigation, detectives learned that the suspects allegedly planned to rob a specific apartment in the complex. But when they ended up breaking into the wrong one, they encountered Melton. After realizing they were in the wrong apartment, they allegedly brutally murdered the 33-year-old.

All three men were being held behind bars on separate charges, prior to Thursday’s announcement. Fair is awaiting trial on racketeering, attempted murder, robbery and weapons offenses. Byrd is in state prison serving out a 12-year-sentence for two shootings in Asbury Park. While Jean-Baptiste is awaiting trial on three separate indictments for drug and weapons charges.

Fair and Jean-Baptiste were arraigned Thursday, Byrd will go before a judge on Friday.  If convicted of felony murder, the suspects face a minimum sentence of 30 years.