Fort Drum soldier, teen connection remains unclear in Cpl. Harris’ murder

Fort Drum. (Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs Photo)

A Fort Drum soldier and a 16-year-old boy accused of killing another soldier will face murder and other charges only in New Jersey, even though the alleged kidnapping occurred in the north country.

Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, and an unidentified teen are accused of abducting Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, in Glen Park and driving him some 300 miles in the corporal’s 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pickup to Byram Township, N.J., after the soldiers had apparently argued about swapping vehicles.

Mellish remains in military custody in the Oneida County Correctional Facility, awaiting extradition to New Jersey. The teen is still in a detention center in upstate New York.

Jefferson County District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills said Wednesday the entire case will be held in Sussex County, N.J., where the murder was committed.

“Jefferson County is not pursuing charges on either individual,” she said.

She could not provide any information about the teen since his case is still sealed in juvenile court.

However, Byram Police Chief Kenneth Burke said the identity of the teen might never be released. The teen now faces juvenile charges in New Jersey. The Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office would have to go to court to formally charge the teen as an adult, yet the juvenile’s identify might still not become public even during his trial, the chief said.

It’s unclear the connection between the teen and Mellish. While unable to provide much about their relationship, Chief Burke said the boy gave a statement to police.

“They knew each other,” the police chief said. “He was a participant.”

Because of COVID-19 issues, an extradition hearing in New Jersey has not been held yet, but could be completed as early as this week.

Mellish also would have to waive his extradition rights in Oneida County, where he’s being held before he could be picked up by a Byram police detective and other Sussex County law enforcement officials. That could happen this week or next, Chief Burke said.

Mellish faces first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree kidnapping resulting in death, second-degree unlawful possession of weapons involving a handgun, second-degree possession of weapons for unlawful purposes and third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution involving concealment/destruction of evidence.

The teen faces first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and weapons charges.

Cpl. Harris was shot in the head and his body was buried in snow, near a cul-de-sac in the small town that had not had a murder for nearly 100 years, police said.

Fort Drum had reported Cpl. Harris missing on Friday, Dec. 18. Police recovered a receipt for a previous vehicle transaction between the two soldiers and other personal papers at the scene.

Cpl. Harris’ body was discovered about 200 yards into a wooded field buried in snow, with just his feet sticking out.

The Byram Fire Department was conducting their annual “Santa ride” around the town on that Saturday, and pulled into a cul-de-sac, close to just a couple of houses when firefighters discovered suspicious items belonging to the corporal.

Police said Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Cpl. Harris, and receive the Silverado. Chief Burke said the two had previously done business with one another.

Cpl. Harris, a member of C Troop, 1-89 Calvary, Fort Drum, was posthumously promoted to the corporal rank and awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

Cpl. Harris, who was from Guys, Tenn., joined the Army in March 2019 and was assigned to Fort Drum that July.

He was laid to rest on New Year’s Eve in his home state of Tennessee, nearly two weeks after he was found dead in northern New Jersey.


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