A New Jersey grand jury on Friday indicted a 23-year-old Wall Township resident in the March 9, 2019 death of his 6-week-old daughter, a county prosecutor announced in a press release. The defendant’s alleged trail of abuse involved more than one child, and it was captured on both video and in a secretly recorded confession obtained by the dead child’s mother, court and police records show.
Austin Meli is charged with endangering the welfare of a child and murder for allegedly suffocating his daughter in a fit of rage, the Asbury Park Press reported.
Officers with the Wall Township Police Department responded to a call about an unresponsive infant — identified in court documents by the initials G.B. — and found the child in the immediate care of Meli. G.B. was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment but was pronounced dead a short while later at Ocean Medical Center. A subsequent investigation concluded that G.B.’s cause of death was homicide, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Meli last year was sentenced to ten years in prison for abusing his 15-month-old son who was identified in court documents as A.B. Law enforcement authorities discovered the abuse of Meli’s son while responding to the call about his unresponsive daughter. He was not initially charged with causing G.B.’s death.
In A.B.’s case, Meli last year pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree aggravated assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of fourth-degree tampering with evidence, according to a report from NJ.com.
The case involving the defendant’s son, A.B., involved injuries alleged to have occurred in the days leading up to the date his daughter died.
According to a police affidavit, Meli “granted consent” for officers to search two cameras he installed in his bedroom. Meli also gave the police his email address and password to access the footage. Court papers described what officers saw when they reviewed the material.
Detective Scott . . . observed a video from March 4, 2019 from the defendant’s bedroom . . . which showed the defendant strike his 16 month old son A.B. in the head with his right hand as A.B. was contained in his pack and play and crying. The strike was forceful enough to knock A.B. down and cause him to cry.
[ . . . ]
Subsequently, the remaining video footage was reviewed. During the video footage from March 7, 2019, Meli can be seen striking A.B. when he is in the playpen. Then Meli picks up A.B. by the neck and violently shakes him. Meli then slams A.B. on to the bed where he presses down on A.B.’s neck. A.B. does not make any more sound as this is occurring. Meli then throws A.B. back into the playpen and A.B. begins to cry again when he lands.
Video footage from March 8, 2019, shows Meli enter the bedroom and pick A.B. up by the ankles and violently swing him around. A.B. is screaming. Meli subsequently pins A.B. down on the bed, with his hands over A.B.’s mouth and nose preventing A.B. from breathing. A.B.’s screams stop. Meli then picks A.B. up by the neck choking him and swinging him around violently. A.B. gasps for breaths. Meli then throws A.B. back on [the] bed and blow[s] smoke from a vape pen.
Elsewhere, the documents clarify that the defendant blew “smoke from a vape pen into A.B.’s face.” According to the documents, A.B. was said to have suffered “[b]ruising and cuts to the forehead.”
Prosecutors in January 2020 said that additional details surrounding the death of G.B. led to the additional charges against Meli.
G.B.’s mother secretly recorded telephone conversations with Meli after the child’s death. In those calls, Meli admitted to killing G.B. The child’s mother then reported Meli’s confession to the Wall Township Police Department.
“The state was able to obtain copies of those recordings, during which the defendant does admit to suffocating G.B. until she was dazed,” a judge said during Meli’s detention hearing. “He then gave her a bottle which she threw up all over him. He then got angry and did it again and she passed out. G.B. never woke up again.”
A police affidavit explained the situation in similar terms.
“Meli admitted . . . that on March 9, 2019 he suffocated G.B. twice,” an affidavit states, “and G.B. did not wake up after the second time.”
That affidavit says police provided the recorded confession to the medical examiner — who re-examined the case and ruled the death a homicide. According to a probable cause affidavit, the initial autopsy listed the infant’s cause of death as pulmonary edema — excess fluid in the lungs. The manner of death was originally listed as undetermined. Now, however, the infant’s cause of death is listed as “smothering” and the manner of death is listed as “homicide,” the records show.
Meli is scheduled to be arraigned on May 24. If convicted on the murder charge, prosecutors say Meli faces a minimum penalty of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum of life in prison without parole. He could also be sentenced to up to 10 years on the child endangerment charge.
Read the police and court documents associated with the case below:
Read the prosecutor’s press release below.
Aaron Keller contributed research and writing to this report.
[image via video screengrab from the Asbury Park Press]
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