Kelvin Melton, the gang leader accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father from inside prison, testified in his defense on Friday and denied having a role in what he described as a “stupid” scheme.
Melton’s testimony came on the last day of evidence in a two-week trial that has given jurors a look at prison life and an underground culture that provides inmates on the inside extensive access to gang members and others on the outside.
The attorneys are set to give closing arguments Monday morning, and the jury could begin deliberations as early as Monday afternoon.
Melton more than once has asked U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III to remove his defense team, arguing that attorneys Gerald Beaver of Fayetteville and daughter Laura Beaver of Raleigh were not familiar enough with how gangs work to question the witnesses who testified for the prosecution.
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But Dever ruled against Melton’s requests, telling the 51-year-old inmate that he could discuss his concerns with his attorneys and suggest questions for their cross-examination of witnesses.
Melton suggested on Friday that it was one of his underlings in the United Bloods Nation, an organization that he said has more than 10,000 members in North Carolina, who devised the elaborate kidnapping scheme to move up in the hierarchy.
Frank Janssen, the father of Wake County assistant district attorney Colleen Janssen, was taken from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014, after answering a stranger’s knock at his door.
Frank Janssen was tied up and forced onto the floorboard of a rental car and driven to Atlanta by his abductors. They tied him to a chair and held him in a closet while Janssen’s family and federal agents began a multi-state search, using wire taps to monitor texts and phone calls.
Prosecutors contend Melton gave instructions throughout the scheme, sending more than 120 texts and calling his underlings on speaker phone before and after the kidnapping. Witnesses for the prosecution testified during the past two weeks about getting the instructions. Their target was Colleen Janssen, who prosecuted the case that led to Melton’s classification as a violent habitual felon, resulting in a lifetime prison sentence.
But one of the addresses the kidnappers had pulled from online searches was for the prosecutor’s parents.
Melton told jurors on Friday that if he had been trying to exact revenge it would have been “handled” at the Janssens’ door. He testified that he had worked too long and hard to build his empire to devise the kidnapping scheme that led to the charges he faces in federal court.
The defense team also called several inmates as witnesses who testified that cellphones smuggled in by corrections officers were passed around and used by several people. One inmate had so much access to a phone he could maintain and update several Facebook pages, according to the testimony.
Prosecutors had Melton read several lines and then played a recording of one of the wire-tapped phone calls that they contend was his voice.
On Monday, the prosecutors and defense team will stitch together evidence and testimony in closing arguments estimated to take about 90 minutes for each side.