FREEHOLD – A Tinton Falls woman who arranged to have her girlfriend shot before later fatally strangling her several months later and burying her body in a Long Branch backyard has been sentenced to 95 years in prison for the crimes, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced Saturday.
Jennifer Sweeney, 38, must serve a minimum of 85 percent of both the 75-year life term for the murder of 41-year-old Tyrita Julius and the 20-year term for the shooting, under the provisions of New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, meaning she will not become eligible for parole until she is more than 100 years of age.
“This sentencing is a fitting outcome to the prosecution of genuinely monstrous crimes,” Linskey said. “This defendant’s actions were callous, calculated, and vicious, and ended the life of a woman beloved by her family and friends. I sincerely thank the detectives and assistant prosecutors who worked so diligently over so many years to see that justice was done in this case.”
At approximately 7:16 p.m. on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, members of the Linden Police Department in Union County responded to the 900 block of Middlesex Street in Linden on a report of a shooting. Upon their arrival, officers found Julius, who had been shot eight times, in the driver’s seat of her vehicle, which was located after colliding with a utility pole a short distance from her residence. The victim’s teenage daughter was seated in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, having also sustained a gunshot wound.
The investigation into the shooting was ongoing when, on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, Julius’s mother reported her daughter missing to both the Linden Police Department and the Long Branch Police Department. Authorities were told at that time that Tyrita had been spending time with a female friend in Tinton Falls the day before, but failed to return home later that evening.
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Investigators from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Linden Police Department contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office about the investigation on the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2016, and a joint investigation by members from those agencies, as well as the Union County Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office, and the Long Branch, Tinton Falls, and New Jersey Transit police departments was initiated.
As a result, on Tuesday, August 16, 2016, Julius’s body was discovered by detectives during the course of a search of the Long Branch residence of 38-year-old Andre Harris – the gunman in the November 2015 shooting. The victim’s remains were discovered buried in the backyard, wrapped in two garbage bags, with an electrical cord around her neck. Sweeney and Harris were subsequently arrested and charged, with a Monmouth County grand jury returning an indictment against each in December 2016.
Harris later reached a plea agreement and agreed to testify during Sweeney’s trial; he was sentenced Friday to 16 years in prison, in accordance with the plea, with 85 percent of that term to be served before the possibility of parole. Last September, following the approximately month-long trial before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman, the jury found Sweeney guilty on charges of first-degree Murder, first-degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, first-degree Attempted Murder, three related weapons offenses, second-degree Desecration of Human Remains, and fourth-degree Tampering with Physical Evidence.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutors Christopher J. Decker and Caitlin J. Sidley.
Sweeney was represented at sentencing by Robin Kay Lord, Esq., with an office in Trenton, and Harris was represented by Allison Friedman, Esq., of Freehold.