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Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, was found dead in a wooded area in Byram Township, Sussex County, N.J., in December 2020. A juvenile has now been charged as an adult in connection with his death. Provided photo

BYRAM, N.J. — A teenager will be tried for murder as an adult for his alleged involvement in the killing of a Fort Drum soldier last December.

Hannan J. Aiken, 17, will face murder and kidnapping charges as an adult after a New Jersey judge agreed in October to waive the case out of family court.

Aiken and Pvt. Jamaal Mellish are accused of killing Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20, after a deal to swap vehicles between the two Fort Drum soldiers went sour.

Aiken, who was 16 at the time of the murder, was the brother of Mellish’s girlfriend.

Aiken, who is from Brooklyn, and Mellish will be tried together for the killing, said Sahil Kabse, an assistant prosecutor in Sussex County, where the murder took place.

The teen’s identity was not released for months while Mr. Kabse worked to convince a judge that the teen should face murder and other charges as an adult.

Aiken was initially charged as a juvenile.

They are accused of forcing Cpl. Harris at gunpoint to ride in the backseat of the vehicle for more than four hours down to Byram Township, N.J., and then shooting him in the head. His body was found partially covered by snow next to a cul-de-sac in the northern New Jersey township.

A trial date has not been set. The two suspects will make their next appearance in court on Jan. 5.

On Nov. 4, a Sussex County grand jury returned a superseding 11-count indictment against both Aiken and Mellish on charges of murder, kidnapping, carjacking, weapons and hindering the investigation.

The teen continues to be in custody at the Morris County Juvenile Detention Facility, while Mellish remains behind bars in a New Jersey correctional facility.

Mellish agreed to swap his Chevrolet Silverado for Harris’ Ford Mustang in July 2020, months before the corporal was murdered, Mr. Kabse said.

But Cpl. Harris was dissatisfied with the circumstances of the transaction and wanted his Mustang back, which angered Mellish, according to Mr. Kabse.

Cpl. Harris was having trouble with getting the pickup truck registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Mr. Kabse said.

Witnesses told authorities Mellish was frustrated over Harris’ request, telling them that he wanted to “kidnap and beat up Harris,” Mr. Kabse confirmed.

The two soldiers agreed to return the vehicles back to each other. They met in a Glen Park parking lot, where Mellish ordered Cpl. Harris in the backseat of the Silverado. At that point, however, Mellish no longer owned the Mustang. He had sold the sports car several months before the killing, according to the New Jersey Herald.

Fort Drum reported Cpl. Harris missing on Dec. 17 and his body was discovered the next day. Aiken and Mellish were apprehended by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department after a deputy stopped them in the Silverado on Arsenal Street, just hours after the corporal’s body was found by firefighters on an annual “Santa ride” in Byram.

The teen allegedly held Cpl. Harris at gunpoint in the backseat while Mellish drove the corporal’s pickup to New Jersey, Mr. Kabse said last summer.

Mr. Kabse said his office has video evidence from a cell phone showing Aiken brandishing a handgun just hours before meeting up with Mellish.

Prosecutors do not know if that handgun was used in the shooting. The gun was never recovered.

The teen gave a statement to police pointing out that Mellish was the killer, police said last summer.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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