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Gang leader convicted in kidnapping of Wake prosecutor's father

Posted June 21

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— A federal court jury on Tuesday found a gang leader guilty of masterminding the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor's father two years ago as payback for putting him behind bars.

Kelvin Melton, 51, was convicted of conspiracy, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and using a firearm during a violent crime. He now faces a possible life sentence in federal prison when he is sentenced in September.

"The crime involved in this trial was monstrously cruel to the victim and to his family, and of course, that family included a dedicated public servant who was being targeted for her public service," Acting U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce said.

Authorities said Melton wanted to exact revenge on Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen, who prosecuted him in a 2012 attempted murder case, which earned him a life sentence in state prison as a habitual felon.

Melton used a cellphone smuggled to him at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner to order subordinates to abduct Janssen, but the crew went to the wrong address and grabbed her father instead.

FBI agents later monitored cellphone calls between Melton and his gang to pinpoint Frank Janssen's location, and they raided an Atlanta apartment to rescue him five days after he was taken from his Wake Forest home.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Cooley, who prosecuted the case, said the Janssen family was relieved by the conviction but didn't want to speak publicly about the kidnapping or the trial.

Former Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum, who took office a few days before the kidnapping, called it "the most unbelievable investigation" with which he's ever been involved.

"(There was) very little sleep on the part of a lot of people, and we were really, really fortunate and lucky for this to have what I think is a happy ending," Mangum said.

Four co-defendants – Tianna Maynard, Quantavious Thompson, Jakym Tibbs and Jenna Martin – testified last week that they drove a rental car from Atlanta to the Triangle, stormed into Frank Janssen's house and used a stun gun and pistol-whipping to beat him into submission. They tossed him in the back of the car and returned to Atlanta, where they handcuffed and blindfolded him, taped him to a chair and left him in a padlocked closet without food and water.

At every step of the way, they said, Melton provided instructions over the phone, culminating with him telling they how to kill him, dispose of the body and clean the apartment with bleach to cover up the crime.

The seven-man, five-woman jury heard a recording of that final call three times during the trial.

Melton said he would never get involved in a "stupid" caper like the kidnapping, contending someone else had set him up to take the fall for the crime so they could move up in the hierarchy of the Bloods street gang.

His defense attorneys argued that all of the co-defendants lied about Melton's involvement to secure reduced sentences for themselves under plea agreements with the government.

Defense attorney Gerald Beaver said afterward that witnesses testified during the two-week trial about a number of violent crimes that Melton wasn't involved in, which may have had an impact on the jury.

"It was clear that such a terrible crime occurred," Beaver said of the Janssen kidnapping, "and so much else was put on other that this particular crime that we believe it tended to overpower the deliberations of the jury."

Bruce said nine people charged in the kidnapping plot have already pleaded guilty, and one more co-defendant is still awaiting trial.

Federal authorities plan to push for a life sentence for Melton, Cooley said, adding that the fact he is already serving a life sentence in state prison is irrelevant.

"If they commit a crime, they need to be held accountable for that crime," she said.

"We will do everything we can to make sure that the custody situation for Kelvin Melton for the rest of his life is such that he will not be able to commit any more crimes," Bruce said, noting that cellphones are a "major problem" for the federal prison system as well as the state system.

"We must do more to prevent convicted criminals from reaching out from their prison cells to continue their criminal activities," he said.

Mangum said the case has already led to changes at the local level.

"It made us change some of the ways that we've dealt with security in this court system," he said. "I hope that, with those changes, we'll be able to prevent things like this in the future."

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  • Byrd Ferguson Jun 21, 7:14 p.m.
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    What? No, it can't be! Didn't Mr. Melton say it would have been 'stupid' to do this crime? What does a guy have to do around here to be taken at his word.