Handover of teen accused in soldier’s death delayed

Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20 Provided photo

FORT DRUM — A Fort Drum soldier has been formally charged with murder and weapons charges in connection with the shooting death of another soldier whose body was found in a wooded field in northern New Jersey on Dec. 19.

The charges against Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, were lodged Sunday in Andover Township Municipal Court. A 16-year-old boy also has been charged.

They are accused of abducting Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, in Watertown and driving him some 300 miles in the corporal’s 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pickup to Byram Township, N.J., after the soldiers had apparently argued about swapping vehicles.

Mellish faces first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree kidnapping resulting in death, second-degree unlawful possession of weapons involving a handgun, second-degree possession of weapons for unlawful purposes and third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution involving concealment/destruction of evidence.

Mellish is in custody in the Oneida County Correctional Facility on a U.S. military violation.

An extradition hearing is expected to be held this week to bring him to New Jersey to answer the charges. The case will proceed in Sussex Superior Court because it involves a felony.

The teen also faces murder and kidnapping charges, authorities said. The teen has been in custody in New York.

Earlier in the day, Byram Township Police Chief Kenneth Burke confirmed that Cpl. Harris was shot in the head and his body was buried in snow, near a cul-de-sac in the small town that had not had a murder for nearly 100 years.

Police discovered Cpl. Harris’ body about 200 yards into a wooded field buried in snow, with just his feet sticking out, he said.

“You could see the tracks where the body was dragged and footprints in the snow,” the police chief said.

Fort Drum had reported Cpl. Harris missing on Friday, Dec. 18. Police recovered a receipt for a previous vehicle transaction between the two soldiers and other personal papers at the scene.

The Byram Fire Department was conducting their annual “Santa ride” around the town on that Saturday, and pulled into a cul-de-sac, close to just a couple of houses.

Fire Chief Todd Rudloff was among a group of volunteer firefighters who came across some items that just didn’t seem to fit there. They called police.

The debris included another receipt from Walmart, a pair of sneakers, food and an umbrella, as well as snow stained with what appeared to be blood. While still at the scene in a rescue truck, Chief Rudloff had a couple of firefighters go find an American flag to wrap the corporal’s body in. After they were unable to find a flag, they took down one on a flag pole in front of the fire station, he said.

“He’s active military,” the fire chief said. “We needed to find one to honor him.”

Last week, Cpl. Harris’s family went to the town for closure and to thank firefighters and police for their involvement in the case, Chief Rudloff said. The fire chief took family members to the murder scene.

“They came for some reflection where their son was last seen to be alive,” he said.

Authorities don’t know for sure why the two soldiers ended up in Byram Township, although Mellish was from Brooklyn.

“He passed this area on his back and forth Fort Drum,” Chief Burke said.

Police said Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Cpl. Harris, and receive the Silverado. Chief Burke said the two had previously done business with one another.

During a memorial service for him in Thompson Park last week, Cpl. Harris was remembered by his commanding officer and a soldier in his unit as a selfless soldier who loved to be in the Army.

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, who was from Guys, Tenn., joined the Army in March 2019. After training at Fort Benning, Ga., he arrived at Fort Drum in July 2019.

Cpl. Harris is survived by his mother, father and sister.

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