BYRAM TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The 16-year-old boy allegedly involved in the murder of a Fort Drum soldier in December is accused of pointing a gun at the victim’s head while he and another soldier drove him more than four hours to a wooded area in northern New Jersey before the victim was shot in the head.
The teen and another Fort Drum soldier, Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, are accused of abducting Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, in Glen Park and driving him some 270 miles in the corporal’s 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pickup to Byram Township, N.J., after the soldiers had apparently argued about swapping vehicles.
Sussex County Assistant Prosecutor Sahil Kabse confirmed that the teen, whose identity has not been made public because he’s a minor, is the brother of Mellish’s girlfriend.
In December, Byram police said the teen was a local boy who lived in the Watertown area before he was charged in the corporal’s murder.
The teen allegedly held Cpl. Harris at gunpoint in the backseat while Mellish drove the corporal’s pickup to New Jersey, Mr. Kabse said.
The teen gave a statement to police pointing out that Mellish was the killer.
The boy was charged as a juvenile and his case is in Family Court, Mr. Kabse said.
“Limited information can be released,” he said, adding the proceedings are “confidential.”
The Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office is expected to request that the teen face charges as an adult.
Judge Louis Sceusi, who’s also presiding over the legal proceedings against Mellish, would determine whether the teen will face Family Court charges or be tried as an adult, Mr. Kabse said.
The boy remains in a juvenile detention center in Morristown, N.J., after he was extradited to New Jersey in January.
Fort Drum reported Cpl. Harris missing on Dec. 17 and his body was discovered the next day.
It hasn’t come out what ignited the killing in what was supposed to be a simple swap of vehicles between two Fort Drum soldiers.
It’s still unclear why they drove Cpl. Harris, who was bound and gagged in the backseat of the pickup truck, so many hours to a secluded spot in Byram Township, where he was shot in the head and left half-buried in the snow in a wooded field.
Mellish remains in the Morris County Correctional Facility, but has appeared via Zoom before Judge Sceusi on three occasions since he was charged.
In the last appearance on April 14, his attorney, Ed Weinstock, an Atlantic City trial attorney who was retained by his family, was relieved from the case and a new attorney, Brian Kenney, was assigned by the Sussex County Public Defender’s Office to represent him, a court official said.
The case is expected to be referred to a grand jury on June 2.
With the change in attorneys, the case will be slowed up a bit so Mr. Kenney can get caught up with the particulars of the case, Mr. Kabse said.
A trial date has not been set for Mellish’s case because of restrictions on the New Jersey courts caused by the pandemic.
With the number of law enforcement and other agencies involved, Mr. Kabse thinks the trial may last as long as four weeks.
The investigation has involved the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office; the Byram Police Department; New Jersey State Police; the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate of the 10th Mountain Division and CID at Fort Drum; the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office; the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office; and the New York City Police Department’s Investigations Squad.
Cpl. Harris, a member of C Troop, 1-89 Calvary, Fort Drum, was posthumously promoted to the corporal rank and awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
Cpl. Harris, of Guys, Tenn., joined the Army in March 2019 and was assigned to Fort Drum that July. With his red hair and bright smile, he was known affectionately as “Opie.”