FREEHOLD, NJ — Two Neptune teenagers have been indicted on murder and related charges in the shooting death of a 10-year-old Asbury Park boy in February, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
A Monmouth County grand jury has returned a six-count indictment charging Karon Council, 18, and co-defendant Jah-Del K. Birch, 17, with killing Yovanni Banos-Merino and injuring the boy’s mother, Lilia Merino, 38, both of whom were not the intended targets of the February 21 shooting incident in the 400 block of Ridge Avenue.
In addition to being charged with first-degree murder, Council and Birch were both indicted on charges of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree attempted murder, second-degree aggravated assault, second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, said the prosecutor's office.
If convicted of murder, they each face a minimum sentence of 30 years in state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. They also face up to 20 years in state prison, if convicted on each count of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder and up to 10 years in prison on each of the remaining charges.
Council was apprehended on February 23 in Deerfield Beach, Fla., after a manhunt by federal, state and local authorities in New Jersey. He is currently being held until his trial at Monmouth County Correctional Institution in Freehold.
Birch was arrested on February 22 without incident at Neptune Township High School where he was a member of the 2020 class. Birch, who will be tried as an adult, has been incarcerated at the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center, North Brunswick.
Asbury Park police responded to a 911 call around 10:40 p.m. on February 21, reporting shots fired at a home in the 400 block of Ridge Avenue. Police arrived to find Banos-Merino and Merino both suffering from gunshot wounds. Both victims were transported to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune Township. Banos-Merino was pronounced dead at 11:18 p.m., while Merino was treated and released.
The joint investigation conducted by the prosecutor’s office and Asbury Park Police Department, with assistance from Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and Neptune Township Police Department, determined Council and Birch arrived at the home to target an occupant also present within the home but who was not injured during the incident.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Bogner and Joseph Cummings. Birch is represented by Jeffrey Coghlan of Freehold and Council by Paul Zager of Red Bank.
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