Jury selection began Monday in a federal trial of a prison inmate accused of using a mobile phone behind bars to organize an elaborately planned kidnapping of a Wake County prosecutor’s father.
Kelvin Melton, described as a high-ranking Bloods gang member, is accused of using a contraband phone inside Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, where he was serving a life sentence, to retaliate against the assistant Wake district attorney who prosecuted him in 2012.
Melton, who was imprisoned for life as a habitual felon, devised at least two schemes from the maximum security prison cell – one to go after his prosecutor and another targeting his defense attorney, according to the indictments filed in his federal court case
Prosecutors contend the attempt to go after the defense attorney, who represented Melton at the 2012 trial on assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious injury, was aborted. The case stemmed from the shooting of a man in 2011.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Instead, Melton offered his co-conspirators $10,000 each to help carry out an interstate kidnapping plot targeting the prosecutor in the case. Frank Janssen, the father of Wake prosecutor Colleen Janssen, was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014.
A four-day manhunt followed Frank Janssen’s kidnapping, as investigators monitored texts and mobile phone calls sent to his wife. A team of federal agents rescued Janssen from an Atlanta apartment on April 9, 2014, and he was reunited with his family a day later.
The case has raised questions about prisoners’ access to mobile phones. The trial could reveal how Melton got the one that prosecutors contend was used to move people from Georgia to Louisiana and North Carolina and back to Atlanta.
Investigators contend that Melton sent more than 120 texts from the contraband phone, some of which give a glimpse of what happened during the four days that Janssen was held captive.
In the spring of 2014, prosecutors contend Melton contacted Tianna Daney Maynard and Patricia Ann Kramer to mobilize men in the Atlanta region to help with the kidnapping plots. Some in the crew went by nicknames – “Axt Up” or “Act Up,” “Flame” and “Hot.”
Kramer, according to the indictment, used her own money to rent a car in March and pay for members of the team to travel to Louisiana and stay in a hotel there as part of the scheme to kidnap a person with ties to Melton’s defense attorney.
Melton, who also is known as “Dizzy” and “Old Man,” had promised an extra $1,000 to Kramer for travel expenses, according to the indictment.
An abandoned plot
The indictment states that the team, armed with a stun gun and firearm, aborted the “plot to kidnap a person with ties to the defense attorney.”
“Despite traveling from Georgia to Louisiana and taking various other steps to carry out the kidnapping plot, the participants aborted the plot prior to completing the abduction,” the indictment states.
The focus then shifted to the April plot, which took the women and two men to Wake Forest and the Heritage golf course community, where Frank Janssen and his wife lived.
On April 3, two women went to Low Rent Rental Car Co. in Mableton, Ga., and picked up a silver 2008 Nissan Versa.
Prosecutors contend that Maynard, who was listed as an “eligible driver” in the rental agreement, picked up another woman accused in the case – Jenna Paula Martin – to travel with her to North Carolina. Martin had been promised $6,000 for her participation, investigators said. Two men were in the car.
While the four were on their way to North Carolina, Melton called them and instructed them to wear khakis and shirts with collars. The kidnapping team stopped at a Walmart and bought clothes.
As they continued their journey north, Melton called and asked to be put on speaker phone to give each person instructions, according to the indictment.
Once at the Heritage golf community, one of the women stayed with the car, according to the indictment, and the other grabbed a clipboard and knocked on the door of the home they thought belonged to the prosecutor.
As Janssen answered his door, he was shocked with a stun gun and his hands were zip tied. He was forced into the backseat of the Nissan, then onto the floorboard.
His abductors covered him with a blanket and kept their feet on him the entire trip back to Georgia.
Investigators contend that Melton arranged for Janssen to be held in an apartment in the Forest Cove apartment complex, also known as the “Four Seasons,” in Atlanta. Melton had arranged to pay $100 per day for use of the apartment, they added.
While Janssen was held captive, taped to a chair inside a closet, Melton called Martin and dictated a text message to be sent to Janssen’s wife. A series of messages followed, and by April 9, 2014, authorities had focused on Melton as the man they suspected of orchestrating the threats and demands.
‘I make rulings’
Before jury selection began Monday morning, Judge James C. Dever agreed to prosecutors’ request to allow information about a gang offshoot he founded in a New York state prison to be presented at trial. Melton, who has tried unsuccessfully before to persuade the judge to let him represent himself, asked again.
Melton told Dever that his attorneys, Laura Beaver of Raleigh and her father, Gerald Beaver of Fayetteville, had told him that gang life would play a major role in his trial.
“I’m in a predicament now that – OK, they know law, but when it comes to gang stuff, they don’t know that,” Melton told Dever. “If they don’t have insight into this stuff, they won’t even know how to question these witnesses.”
Dever noted Melton’s objection, but refused to grant his request for new attorneys or to allow him to represent himself. Dever reminded Melton that he could talk with his attorneys throughout the trial, which is expected to last two to three weeks, and suggest questions for their cross-examination of witnesses.
After allowing Melton to argue a few more minutes, Dever cut him off, telling him that a defendant can be removed from the courtroom if his conduct is out of order.
“Part of the process,” Dever told Melton, “is that I make rulings. You may object. That’s fine. ...There’s one person in charge, and that’s me.”