FREEHOLD – A Neptune Township teenager charged in the shooting death of 10-year-old Yovanni Banos-Merino in Asbury Park back in February will face those charges in adult court a judge ruled earlier this week, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Jah-Del K. Birch, 17, of Embury Avenue in Neptune Township, now faces adult charges of first degree Murder, first degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, second degree Aggravated Assault, second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, and second degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose. The State’s motion to waive Birch’s case to Superior Court was granted earlier this week in Monmouth County Family Court. A detention hearing in Monmouth County Superior Court before Judge Paul X. Escandon is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at 9 a.m.
Birch and Karon Council, 18, of Heck Avenue, are charged with killing Banos-Merino and injuring the boy’s mother Lilia Merino, 38, both of whom were not the intended targets of the Feb. 21, 2018 shooting incident in the 400 block of Ridge Avenue.
Birch was arrested without incident at Neptune Township High School where he was a member of the 2020 class. He has been incarcerated at the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center since his arrest in February.
Council was arrested in Florida two days after incident following an intense manhunt. He is also facing charges of first degree Murder, first degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, second degree Aggravated Assault, second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, and second degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose.
Asbury Park police responded to a 911 call around 10:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, reporting shots fired at a home in the 400 block of Ridge Avenue in the city. Police arrived to find the 10-year-old child and his 38-year-old mother had been struck with gunshot wounds. The child’s mother was treated and released for her injuries, however the child was pronounced deceased at 11:18 p.m.
The joint investigation conducted by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Asbury Park Police Department, with assistance from Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and Neptune Township Police Department determined Council and Birch arrived at the home to target an occupant also present within the home but who was not injured during the incident.
Investigators welcome any assistance from the public to identify others who may have been involved in this criminal conspiracy. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Detective Brian Weisbrot of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 800-533-7443 or Detective Sean DeShader of the Asbury Park Police Department at 732-774-1300.
Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about a crime can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; can text "MONMOUTH” plus their tip to 274637; or, they can email a tip via the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com. Monmouth County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of criminals and fugitives.
If convicted of Murder, Birch and Council would each face a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the provisions of the "No Early Release Act" requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. He would also be under parole supervision for five years following his release from state prison.
If convicted of any of the second degree crimes, Birch and Council each faces a sentence of five to ten years in prison for each of the counts against them.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Bogner and Joseph Cummings.
Birch is represented by Jeffrey Coughlin, Esq., of Freehold.
Council is represented by Paul Zager, Esq., of Red Bank.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.