Murder-for-hire accusation lodged against man in dad’s death
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — Prosecutors say a new murder-for-hire accusation against a New Jersey man in the death of his father two years ago could result in a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Mark Austin and a codefendant were originally charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons counts in the death of Austin’s 55-year-old father, Mark, who was found beaten to death in his Brick Township home in September 2019.
Ocean County prosecutors on Friday announced a superseding indictment against 30-year-old Austin alleging that he procured commission of the murder with payment or promise of payment. Prosecutors said that aggravating factor, if proven, would require imposition of a life-without-parole sentence.
When the original charges were filed, “it was not known at that time that this was a murder-for-hire situation.,” prosecutors said.
Austin’s codefendant, Jeray Melton, 30, of Salem City, pleaded guilty in February 2020 to aggravated manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing, prosecutors said.
Melton originally alleged Austin, his former cellmate at a youth correctional facility, threatened to kill him if he didn’t kill the victim but he changed his story several times, according to The Asbury Park Press.
Melton told the judge during his plea hearing that Austin offered him $50,000 to do the slaying, Austin defense attorneys Robert De Groot and Oleg Nekretin told the newspaper. Asked why he changed his story repeatedly, Melton told investigators he was scared and has “mental health problems,” according to a transcript of a statement he gave to detectives in February, the newspaper reported.
Melton told the court that the dispute involved a debt between $5,000 and $8,000 owed by Austin to his father, the newspaper reported.
Austin’s defense attorneys in October 2019 accused authorities of a “campaign of coercion and trickery to obtain a false confession and false statement” from Melton.