Local News

Defense: Don't blame gang leader for 'Keystone Kidnappers' abduction

Posted June 20, 2016 1:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 20, 2016 7:07 p.m. EDT

— A federal court jury will continue deliberating Tuesday whether a gang leader masterminded the abduction of the father of a Wake County prosecutor two years ago while behind bars.

Kelvin Melton, 51, is charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and using a firearm during a violent crime and could face a life sentence in federal prison if convicted.

Jurors deliberated for more than four hours Monday without reaching a verdict.

Melton is accused of orchestrating the April 2014 kidnapping of the father of Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen, who prosecuted Melton in a 2012 attempted murder in Raleigh, which earned him a life sentence as a habitual felon.

Authorities have said 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.

Four co-defendants testified last week that Melton provided instructions via phone every step of the way, including how to kill Frank Janssen and dispose of his body.

Authorities said they monitored the cellphone conversations and were able to pinpoint Frank Janssen's location, and FBI agents raided an Atlanta apartment and freed him five days after he was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home.

Defense attorney Laura Beaver told the seven-man, five-woman jury that the four co-defendants – Tianna Maynard, Quantavious Thompson, Jakym Tibbs and Jenna Martin – carried out the abduction on their own and that Melton shouldn't be held responsible.

Beaver called the quartet the "Keystone Kidnappers," a reference to the Keystone Kops squad of bumbling police officers in slapstick silent movies, noting they were too busy getting high and having sex to carry out a crime.

"The government needs you to believe (Melton) relied on these people," Beaver said incredulously in her closing argument. "They failed at everything they ever tried to do."

Melton testified Friday that he never would have involved himself in a "stupid" caper like Janssen's kidnapping, saying he believed someone else set him up to take the fall for the crime in order to move up in the hierarchy of the Bloods street gang.

Beaver reminded jurors that each of the co-defendants received a plea deal and that they had to testify against Melton to ensure a reduced sentence. Even then, she said, they screwed up details of their accounts of the kidnapping.

"They had a motive to falsify their testimony," she said. "They haven't shown you any of it was for the benefit of Kelvin Melton."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Cooley countered by asking jurors who else would have benefited by kidnapping Frank Janssen. Melton is the only person charged in the case with a connection to the Janssen family.

"This was 100 percent personal," Cooley said in her closing argument. "(Colleen Janssen) put him in prison for life, and he could not stand it."

A recording of an FBI wiretap on which a man authorities have said is Melton provides instructions to carry out a murder was played for the jury three times last week. Cooley told jurors there was no way for the defense to rebut the words on that recording.

"The evidence from the cellphone, the defendant's phone, ties him to every crime," she said.