Wake prosecutor's father still bears scars of gang kidnapping
Posted June 7, 2016 11:09 a.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2016 7:13 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — A Wake Forest man recounted in harrowing detail Tuesday how he was kidnapped two years ago by a group seeking revenge on his daughter for prosecuting a reputed gang leader.
"They shoved a gun in the side of my head and said, 'I don't want you to move an inch, or I'll blow your head off,'" Frank Janssen calmly told a rapt federal court jury during the first day of testimony in the trial of Kelvin Melton.
Melton, 51, is accused of orchestrating Janssen's April 2014 abduction from his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner.
Janssen said he had returned from a bike ride and was working a crossword puzzle and having a glass of tea at his home when his doorbell rang, and he saw a woman at the front door.
"As soon as I opened the door, maybe a foot or so, I saw bodies rushing at me," he said. "I tried to close the door. ... They got the better of me."
Two men forced their way into the home, struck Janssen on the head and used a stun gun on him, he said. He awoke to find zip-ties on his hands, and the men were running around the house yelling, "Where is she? Where is the girl?"
Janssen said his wife was out shopping with one of his daughters. His other daughter, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen had been the kidnapping target, according to federal authorities.
Colleen Janssen had prosecuted Melton in a 2012 attempted murder in Raleigh, which earned him a life sentence as a habitual felon.
Investigators have described Melton as a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang, and they said he used a cellphone that had been smuggled into prison to order subordinates to abduct Colleen Janssen, but the crew went to the wrong address and grabbed her father instead.
Frank Janssen said the men dragged him out of his house and threw him on the floor of a waiting car, shoving his head under the driver's seat and throwing a blanket on top of him. As the car drove, he tried to pay attention to as much detail as he could – a GPS in the vehicle announced they had to go 196 miles – while trying to free himself.
He chewed through the zip-ties and decided he would try to grab the driver and cause the car to crash.
"I figured I would have a better chance this way," he testified. "I was willing to take that risk."
Instead, he was able to grab only the driver's sweater, which infuriated his captors. They punched and kicked him, put handcuffs on him and shoved his head further under the seat as the car drove on, eventually winding up in Atlanta.
Captivity left scars
In Atlanta, Janssen was kept bound to a chair in a locked closet for several days until FBI agents raided the apartment where he was being held and freed him.
Authorities brought into the federal courtroom Tuesday a straight-back, wooden chair with metal arms that they said Janssen had been taped to when he was rescued.
Janssen said the chair was positioned sideways in the closet, which left him very little room to move around. Whenever he shifted in the chair, he said, people would bang on the closet door and threaten to beat him if he didn't keep still.
He slowly became dehydrated, and his captors kept saying they had to "ask the old man" if they could give him water or something to eat. A bucket was placed in closet for him to use to go to the bathroom, but he said that didn't work and he wound up sitting in his own urine for days.
Janssen needed surgery to remove a blood clot in his foot, and he spent 20 weeks in hospitals in Atlanta and the Triangle, learning how to walk again. He showed jurors scars that remain on his wrists from being handcuffed for days and on his legs from the beating that he received.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Cooley told jurors in her opening statement that agents were able to trace some of the threatening messages sent to Janssen's family to a cellphone that later called Melton in prison. Authorities then monitored calls Melton made to associates in order to locate Janssen and arrest the suspected kidnappers.
A wiretap on Melton's phone catches him ordering his henchmen to kill Janssen by putting a plastic bag over his head, cinching it tight and waiting until the lack of air "do what it do," Cooley said, quoting a transcript of the recording,
"The defendant himself ordered the death of Frank Janssen," she said.
Authorities recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel inside an SUV when making the Atlanta arrests, the FBI said.
Defense attorney Gerald Beaver told jurors to be skeptical when listening to the testimony of co-defendants in the case, all of whom have obtained plea deals to receive reduced sentences in exchange for testifying against Melton.
Beaver also noted that the ransom demand sent to Janssen's family made no sense, especially if revenge was the motive for the kidnapping.
Melton, who sat in court with his legs shackled and had several U.S. marshals sitting nearby, said Monday that he wanted to represent himself in the case because Beaver and other defense attorneys don't know enough "gang stuff" to properly question witnesses. U.S. District Judge James Dever denied the request.
After he was freed, Janssen said, his wife told him in an Atlanta hospital that their daughter had been the intended target of the kidnappers.
"I felt lucky it was me," he said.
In addition to the physical scars, he said he has emotional scars from the incident, saying he is less trusting of people and never opens the front door for anyone.
"You can't erase it. It's always there," he said.
Prosecutors also called as witnesses Tuesday the gunman in the 2012 attempted murder in Raleigh, who testified that Melton ordered the hit, and several state corrections officers, who said Melton was caught will contraband cellphones in prison before Janssen's kidnapping.