An Army soldier and a 16-year-old boy have been charged in the murder of Hayden Harris, a corporal at Fort Drum, New York who was found dead in New Jersey.
Jamaal Mellish, 23, and the unidentified teenager face felony murder, kidnapping and second-degree weapons charges, according to the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Mellish was also charged with third-degree suppression of evidence.
Harris, 20, was found shot to death and buried under snow in a wooded area of Byram Township on Dec. 19. Shortly before his death, Harris had been reported missing.
Firefighters discovered the body after they saw debris and blood along a roadway during an annual Santa ride.
“The top of the snow was stained with what appeared to be blood,” the police department said in a statement. “During a search of the disturbed area in the snow, the victim’s body was found approximately 200 yards into the wooded area mostly buried under snow.”
Investigators said that Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Harris for a Chevy pickup truck. The two had had a previous transaction, police said.
According to a Sussex County assistant prosecutor, authorities believe Mellish “abducted” Harris during the planned vehicle exchange.
Mellish is being held in military custody in New York pending extradition to New Jersey. It’s not clear whether he has an attorney.
The teenager is being held at a juvenile detention center. Byram police and the prosecutor’s office have not said how the teen was allegedly involved.
Harris, an infantryman with the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, joined the Army in March 2019. The Tennessee native was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Army Commendation Medal, which honors soldiers for their heroic action, achievements or service.
He also earned several awards and decorations, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“It was well known here that Corporal Harris was a great Soldier, and as we share our grief with his friends and family, I hear again and again how he was also — and most importantly — a really wonderful, caring person,” said Brigadier Gen. Brett Funck, acting senior commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, in a statement.