Kelvin Melton, the 51-year-old high-ranking gang member accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father in 2014, was convicted Tuesday of conspiring with others from inside his prison cell to carry out the crime.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning until about 11:30 a.m. before announcing its verdict. Melton, who will be sentenced in September, showed no emotion as U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III read the decision.
Melton was convicted of being the mastermind of the kidnapping of Frank Janssen, the father of Wake County assistant district attorney Colleen Janssen. Frank Janssen testified during the two-week trial that he continues to suffer from emotional and physical injuries related to his abduction in April 2014 from his home in Wake Forest.
Melton, according to prosecutors, coordinated a multi-state scheme in which gang members that he presided over drove from Atlanta to Wake Forest to exact revenge on the Wake prosecutor who tried the case that resulted in his being declared a violent habitual felon – a designation that brought him a life prison sentence.
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Melton faces a possible life sentence in federal court. He remains sentenced to life in prison in state court, too. He was convicted of kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and a firearms charge related to conspiracy.
“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 told a group of reporters after the verdict.
Melton, a leader in the United Bloods Nation gang, testified in his defense on Friday, at the end of the trial. He denied having a role in what he described as a “stupid” scheme. His defense team contended in closing arguments that many of the key prosecution witnesses, who also had been accused in the crime, had offered a narrative that fit the government’s theory to get lighter sentences.
Gerald Beaver and Laura Beaver, the father-daughter defense team from Fayetteville and Raleigh, thanked jurors for their time after the verdict, but they continued to question the testimony of key witnesses who had much to benefit by telling prosecutors what they wanted to hear.
“There’s a quote that says, ‘People in this system are taught not only to sing, but to compose,’” Laura Beaver told reporters.
Frank Janssen was taken from his home on April 5, 2014, and driven to an apartment in Atlanta by his abductors. He was tied to a chair and held in a closet while Janssen’s family and federal agents began a multi-state search for him, using wire taps to monitor texts and phone calls. Prosecutors contend Melton gave instructions from inside prison throughout the scheme, sending more than 120 texts and calling his underlings on speaker phone before and after the kidnapping.
A team of federal agents rescued Janssen on April 9, 2014. He was reunited with his family a day later.
The case has given a glimpse of how street gangs work, as well as how money can flow from members outside prison walls to incarcerated leaders. The trial also has highlighted the prevalence of contraband phones inside state prisons and put a focus on corrupt guards who help smuggle them to inmates.
On Tuesday, Bruce said cellphones were illegally smuggled into federal prisons, too.
“Cellphones are a problem in all prison systems, a big problem,” Bruce sad. “We’re working to address it, and so is the state of North Carolina.”