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NC prison officials knew of threat to Wake prosecutor months before kidnapping

Posted June 8, 2016 11:12 a.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2016 6:51 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina prison officials were aware that a reputed gang leader had threatened a Wake County prosecutor for more than a year before her father was kidnapped, a witness testified Wednesday.

Kelvin Melton, 51, is accused of orchestrating from his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner the April 2014 abduction of the father of Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen. FBI agents raided an Atlanta apartment and freed Frank Janssen five days after he was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home.

Colleen Janssen prosecuted Melton in a 2012 attempted murder in Raleigh, which earned him a life sentence as a habitual felon.

Roger Bethea, who shared space with Melton in Polk Correctional's maximum-security unit in 2013-14, said he became concerned with Melton's obsession with making Colleen Janssen suffer for his conviction.

"He wanted her to be kidnapped, and he wanted her to be tortured by his family," Bethea said, referring to the branch of the Bloods street gang that Melton headed.

Melton asked Bethea to call someone in Raleigh to arrange the kidnapping, but Bethea said he "didn't follow through" because gangs have an unwritten rule not to kill women or children, who are considered "innocents."

"She was a female and she was innocent," he said of Colleen Janssen. "He got mad because she did her job and he got a life sentence. He wanted her to pay for it."

Bethea said he wrote letters to prison administrators to warn them of Melton's plans and to ask that he be separated from Melton inside the prison.

"He probably would have killed me if he had found out" about the letters, he testified.

FBI agents talked to Bethea about Melton after Frank Janssen's kidnapping, and Bethea attributed the delay to Melton's close relationships with prison staffers at Polk Correctional. He said he knew of at least two female correctional officers who were having sex with Melton and of at least three officers who had smuggled cellphones into the prison for him to use. Bethea said Melton even shared a contraband phone with him at one point.

Larry Dunston, an administrator in the state Division of Adult Corrections, testified that state officials had received Bethea's letters and investigated them in March 2013 – 13 months before Frank Janssen's kidnapping.

Investigators tracked down the man Melton had asked Bethea to call, Dunston said, but the man had been wounded in a gunfight and was paralyzed, so investigators didn't consider him a threat. They passed word of the threat on to the Wake County District Attorney's Office, he said.

Authorities have said Melton later used a cellphone to order subordinates to abduct Colleen Janssen, but the crew went to the wrong address and grabbed her father by mistake.

Frank Janssen described his ordeal to jurors on Tuesday and showed them scars he still has on his wrists and legs from the handcuffs he wore and the beatings he received from his captors.

Defense attorney Gerald Beaver questioned Bethea's credibility on cross-examination, suggesting he was working to get a reduced sentence by testifying against Melton.

Bethea acknowledged that he repeatedly asked for help from authorities but was always told they couldn't make any promises.

He said he was moved to Central Prison in Raleigh shortly after talking to the FBI about Melton but was then stabbed three times within two weeks. He is now being held in a federal prison in Delaware for safe-keeping.