Inmate accused of orchestrating kidnapping of prosecutor’s father asks for new attorneys

The man accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father told a federal judge on Monday that he did not trust his defense team.

Kelvin Melton, who has been detained in isolation in the federal prison at Butner for a year and a half, told U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III that he thought his attorneys had been withholding information from him.

Dever listened and asked Melton questions. But after the brief hearing on Monday, the judge denied Melton’s request.

Melton, 50, described as a high-ranking Bloods gang member, faces federal charges of using a contraband phone inside Polk prison, a state facility where he was serving a life sentence, to retaliate against the assistant Wake district attorney who prosecuted him in 2012.

Frank Janssen, 63, father of Wake prosecutor Colleen Janssen, was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014. Colleen Janssen was the assistant district attorney assigned to Melton’s 2012 case, which stemmed from the 2011 shooting of a man and resulted in his being labeled as a habitual felon.

Melton, according to the indictments filed in his federal court case, devised at least two schemes from Polk, a maximum security state prison – one to go after his prosecutor and another targeting his defense attorney.

Prosecutors contend the attempt to go after the defense attorney was aborted. Instead, Melton offered his co-conspirators $10,000 each to help carry out an interstate kidnapping plot that stirred up questions about whether state correctional officers had helped the prisoner, as he mobilized people from Georgia to Louisiana and North Carolina.

Two state correctional officers were accused in August of being part of the scheme that led to a four-day interstate manhunt following Frank Janssen’s kidnapping.

Investigators monitored texts and mobile phone calls sent to Janssen’s wife. Then on April 9, 2014, a team of federal agents rescued Janssen from an Atlanta apartment. He was reunited with his family a day later.

Colleen Janssen was at the federal court hearing on Monday, but declined to discuss the case afterward.

Federal prosecutors and Melton’s defense team updated Dever on the exchange of documents as the scheduled trial date approaches.

Thousands of pages of have been turned over to Melton and his attorneys, but some from the State Bureau of Investigation have been illegible. Others have been provided only to Melton’s defense attorneys because of a protective order put in place shortly after his arrest.

Because prosecutors allege that Melton was able to orchestrate a crime from inside prison walls, and some of the information in the case has been gathered from current state inmates and prison guards, the judge agreed to restrict the flow of information to the accused for fear that Melton would retaliate against others in the case.

Melton wrote a letter to Dever before the hearing and told him that he thought his attorneys had information that he did not have and were not telling him about it. He complained that some of the documents that went to both of them were illegible.

“How can you allow the government to give you paperwork that you can’t read?” Melton told Dever Monday as he tried to explain his frustration. “If you can’t read it, how can you represent me? This is paperwork that is significant to the case.”

Dever acknowledged the difficulties of Melton’s pre-trial situation. The defense attorneys complained earlier in the hearing about the way prosecutors were sharing some of the details of the case. They had to look at pages of records in Raleigh, but were unable to copy the material or take it on a disk for fear it would be widely distributed and put some of the witnesses in the case in jeopardy.

“The material that they have is different by a large margin from what I have,” Melton told the judge. “When I ask about it, I am being told something different from what’s in front of my face. “

Melton, who was surrounded by marshals and in shackles at the hearing, added: “The way I feel is there’s a lot of things that I know about this case.”

But Melton, whose long microbraids were wrapped high on his head in a multi-layered bun, said he did not trust his attorneys enough to share critical details with them because he thought they had not been keeping him in the loop.

Defense attorney Samuel Randall IV told Dever he had not been able to spend much time with Melton and the restrictions put in place by the protective order had made it difficult for a free flow of information.

“The relationship is strained,” Randall said. “It’s not conducive to any attorney-client privilege.”

Dever said from the bench that he did not think “the conflict” between Melton and his attorneys had “resulted in a total lack of communication” and for that reason he was not going to appoint a new defense team.

Other defense attorneys would be in a similar situation, Dever said.

The trial is set to begin in early February, but could be postponed.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1