A 23-year-old New Jersey man already serving a decade in prison for abusing his 15-month-old son has admitted to killing his 6-week-old baby girl in a fit of rage. Austin Meli on Thursday formally pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree aggravated manslaughter in the baby’s death, said acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.
According to a press release from Linskey’s office, Meli is facing a maximum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey State Prison. The state already declared its intent to recommend that Meli’s sentence run consecutive with the 10-year sentence he is currently serving for second-degree aggravated assault, child endangerment, and tampering with physical evidence in connection with the abuse of his son.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, officers with the Wall Township Police Department on March 9, 2019 responded to a call about an unresponsive infant — identified in court documents by the initials G.B. — at Meli’s home. Upon arriving on the scene, first responder found the child not breathing and immediately rushed her to the Ocean Medical Center in Brick, New Jersey. Authorities said she was in the immediate care of her father at the time she was found unresponsive.
Doctors attempted to resuscitate the baby but she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the facility.
An initial autopsy was performed and the medical examiner listed G.B.’s cause of death as a pulmonary edema, which is excess fluid in the lungs. The manner of death was listed as “undetermined” and no arrests were made.
Investigators began to re-examine the case, however, after G.B.’s mother provided police with critical evidence implicating Meli.
Per a probable cause affidavit reviewed by Law&Crime, the infant’s mother secretly recorded telephone conversations with Meli following their daughter’s death. In those calls, Meli admitted that “on March 9, 2019 he suffocated G.B. twice” and “G.B. did not wake up after the second time.” The child’s mother then reported Meli’s confession to detectives with the Wall Township Police Department.
The recordings of Meli’s confessions were provided to the medical examiner who re-examined G.B.’s case and concluded that the manner of death was a homicide and the cause of death was “smothering,” per the affidavit.
“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 2020 detention hearing, according to a report from NJ Advanced Media. “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.”
Meli’s sentence for G.B.’s death is subject to the state’s No Early Release Act (NERA), which requires that he serve at least 85-percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. His attorney Allison Friedman did not immediately respond to an email from Law&Crime seeking comment on her client’s plea and the sentencing phase of the proceedings.
Meli is currently serving his 10-year sentence in South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
[image via Asbury Park Press screengrab]
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