FREEHOLD – A Monmouth County grand jury has returned a six-count indictment charging a Neptune Township man and his juvenile co-defendant in the shooting death of a 10-year-old Asbury Park boy back in February. The boy’s mother was also injured in the shooting incident, but neither of the victims were the intended target, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Karon Council, 18, and co-defendant Jah-Del K. Birch, 17, both of Neptune Township, are charged with killing Yovanni Banos-Merino, 10, 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. Council and Birch were both named in the indictment charging them with first degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, first degree Attempted Murder, first degree Murder, second degree Aggravated Assault, second degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose and second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon.
Council and Birch each face up to 20 years in a New Jersey state prison, if convicted on each count of Conspiracy to Commit Murder and Attempted Murder.
If convicted of Murder, they each face a minimum sentence of 30 years in state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. All the first degree charges are subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring the defendants to each serve 85 percent of each of the sentences imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. They would also be under parole supervision for five years following their release from state prison.
If convicted of Aggravated Assault, they each face a state prison sentence of five to ten years. The second degree weapons offenses carry a maximum potential sentence is a state prison term of 10 years on each count, and pursuant to the “Graves Act” there is a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of one half of the custodial sentence imposed, or 42 months, whichever is greater.
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Council was arrested in Florida in late February two days after the incident and following an intense manhunt. 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. A motion to waive Birch’s case to Superior Court was granted earlier this month in Monmouth County Family Court. Birch now faces charges as an adult. At a detention hearing last week, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon ordered Birch held pending trial.
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.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Bogner and Joseph Cummings.
Birch is represented by Jeffrey Coghlan, 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.