Kidnap suspect: Defense attorneys don't know 'gang stuff'
Posted June 6, 2016
RALEIGH, N.C. — A violent criminal described as a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang said Monday that his lawyers lack knowledge about gang operations needed to defend him on federal charges he orchestrated the kidnapping of a prosecutor's father from his prison cell.
Kelvin Melton, 51, said he wanted to represent himself and be advised by his defense lawyers during a 10-minute exchange with the judge before a trial that could put him in federal prison for life. Melton said he anticipated that testimony about gangs would have a big role in his trial on kidnapping and other charges. Prosecutors say he founded an offshoot called United Bloods Nation during a stint in a New York state prison.
"I'm in a predicament now that, OK, they know law, but when it comes to gang stuff, they don't know that," Melton said in seeking to replace his lawyers. "If they don't have insight into this stuff, they won't even know how to question these witnesses."
U.S. District Judge James Dever III said Melton appeared to be trying to abuse the court process, and his defense lawyers will stay on the job. Dever also refused a bid to delay the trial because Melton is Muslim and Monday was a religious holiday.
Authorities say Melton used a smuggled cellphone to target the Wake County prosecutor who put him away for the Raleigh shooting. But Melton's crew botched the plan by going to the wrong address and instead snatched the prosecutor's father.
Frank Janssen was rescued after the FBI tracked cellphone traffic to Melton's prison cell and authorities stormed an Atlanta apartment where Janssen was held, according to court records. Janssen's captors were apparently finalizing details to kill him and dispose of his body.
"The plan was to kill the victim. The government's evidence includes statements from cooperating defendants and electronic surveillance," a federal judge wrote in May 2014 when ordering Melton be held in federal prison until trial instead of state lockup.
Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, beginning with a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14. He served more than 13 years in New York prisons for manslaughter and robbery before being released in August 2011.
Melton was arrested in Raleigh the following month for a failed attempt to kill his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 19-year-old subordinate to carry out the Raleigh slaying. The admitted triggerman and Bloods member testified at Melton's trial that he followed the gang boss' orders to shoot the North Carolina man for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn't.
Melton was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and being a habitual felon. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The prosecutor in Melton's case was Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen. Frank Janssen was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home in April 2014 and driven to Atlanta, the FBI said. Text messages to Janssen's wife threatened to kill him unless she met demands that benefited Melton, according to the FBI. Those demands were not spelled out in court filings.
The messages to Janssen's wife included a photograph of him tied up in a chair along with a message: "Tomorrow we call you again an if you can not tell me where my things are at tomorrow i will start torchering."
The FBI said a call was placed by Melton from the prison to a phone associated with the kidnappers in Atlanta. Quotes in court filings suggest the two male callers were discussing how to kill Janssen and dispose of his body.
"We want to make sure it's in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go 3 feet deep," a male voice said, according to an FBI agent's description of events.
"Make sure to clean the area up. Don't leave anything. Don't leave any DNA behind," one of the men said, according to the FBI.
Authorities recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel inside an SUV when making the Atlanta arrests, the FBI said.
Court documents allege that Melton orchestrated other crimes while behind bars, including the January 2014 killing of a man at a Georgia gas station and the attempted kidnappings of relatives of his defense attorneys in High Point and Louisiana in March 2014.
Charges remain pending for eight of Melton's co-defendants in the Janssen kidnapping. Chason Renee Chase, a South Carolina woman who authorities said is a gang member, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents and hindering their hunt for the missing Janssen. She was sentenced to three months in federal prison.
Mobile phones were confiscated from inmates in North Carolina's prisons 858 times in 2013, 691 times in 2014 and 546 times in 2015, the state Department of Public Safety said.
Since the kidnapping, prison officials have deployed sniffing dogs and more frequent searches to find cellphones and North Carolina has made it a felony to supply a state inmate with one. The agency also has $3.5 million for future contracts to set up cellular umbrellas over two high-security prisons that would only allow authorized devices to work.