FREEHOLD – When Tyrita Julius rebuffed lover Jennifer Sweeney, Sweeney tried to kill her not once, but twice, a judge said.
The first attempt didn’t work; the second attempt did, said Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman.
Bauman on Friday sentenced Sweeney, 38, of Tinton Falls, to 20 years in prison for the failed attempt on Julius’ life. He sentenced Sweeney to life in prison for the murder of the 41-year-old Linden woman.
Bauman ordered that the two prison terms run consecutively and that Sweeney serve 85% of them before she can be considered for release on parole, under the state’s No Early Release Act. As a result, Sweeney will be in prison for at least 80 and 3/4 years.
How we got here
After Julius lost interest in Sweeney, Sweeney enlisted a high school friend to kill Julius in November 2015 and provided the gun with which to shoot her, Bauman said.
Bauman on Friday, also sentenced the gunman, Andre Harris, 38, of Long Branch, to 16 years in prison for the failed murder attempt.
When the victim survived the shooting, Sweeney took on the role of Julius’ protector in an attempt to rekindle their relationship, Bauman said.
Months later, Sweeney took advantage of Julius’ physical condition, weakened from being shot, and strangled her to death with an electrical cord on March 8, 2016, for again rebuffing her, Bauman said.
When Julius’ mother reported her daughter missing to police, Sweeney told authorities she dropped off Julius at the Long Branch train station and never saw her again, all along knowing Julius would never be found alive, the judge said. She later joined Julius’ friends and relatives in searching for the missing woman, the judge said.
“It is difficult to imagine a more heinous scheme of manipulation and cold-hearted depravity over four months than that orchestrated by Jennifer Sweeney,’’ Bauman said.
“Evidence at trial then revealed that the defendant denied Miss Julius a proper burial and dumped her in a hole dug by Mr. Harris on his own property,’’ Bauman said.
Julius’ family suffered for months, not knowing her fate, until her body was found five months later in Harris’ backyard, said Christopher Decker, assistant Monmouth County prosecutor.
Harris admitted his role in the crimes and testified against Sweeney at a trial before Bauman last year.
The jury in September convicted Sweeney of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, desecrating human remains, tampering with evidence and weapons offenses.
Sweeney, who was employed as a Comcast executive and previously worked as a teacher’s assistant and as a 911 operator for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, declined to speak before she was sentenced.
“She loved the victim very much and maintains her innocence,’’ said her defense attorney, Robin K. Lord. “She did not commit these crimes.’’
Bauman rejected Lord’s request to sentence Sweeney to 30 years in prison.
The judge sentenced Harris under terms of a plea bargain and ordered him to serve 85 percent of the 16-year prison term before he can be considered for release on parole.
Harris pleaded guilty in 2019 to two counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, desecrating human remains and tampering with evidence, as well as an unrelated charge of obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud.
Andre testified that Sweeney threatened to kill his children if he didn’t shoot Julius, a stranger to him.
“The threats that were made to him, he truly believed,’’ said Harris’ attorney, Allison Friedman. “Those threats involved causing harm to his son, and that scared him, it scared him to his core, because he believed that they would be real, that they would be carried out, and he loved his family and he wanted to protect his son.’’
Asking for forgiveness
Harris asked Julius’ family for forgiveness.
“I’m so sorry for what I’ve done,’’ Harris said, turning to the victim’s family and friends gathered in the courtroom, some wearing black T-shirts with the words “Team Tyrita” emblazoned on them.
“I don’t know what to say,’’ Harris told them. “I’m asking for you to forgive me.’’
Bauman noted that Harris fired eight bullets at close range at Julius as she sat in a car with her teenage daughter near their home in Linden on Nov. 24, 2015, as they were about to go watch her son’s basketball game.
Julius, seriously injured, was hospitalized for 39 days and continued to suffer arm and leg injuries, Decker said. Her daughter was grazed by a bullet.
“Miss Julius and her daughter miraculously survived that shooting,’’ Bauman said.
“Having first tried to kill Miss Julius in November 2015, defendant Harris four months later committed wholly new acts of criminal depravity by burying Miss Julius in his backyard, thereby hiding evidence of Sweeney’s murder on his property,’’ the judge said.
Julius’ relatives didn’t speak at Harris’ sentencing hearing on Friday afternoon, but they did at Sweeney’s sentencing hearing Friday morning.
“Tyrita’s gone,’’ said Queen Julius, the victim’s mother, crying. “I will forever be heartbroken. She was my child, my only daughter.’’
The grieving mother said her daughter “left this world by nightmarish circumstances’’ that she plays out daily in her her mind.
Overcome with emotion, the mother handed a written statement she had prepared to recite to the judge to a friend who was at her side, who continued to read the statement for her.
“In her last hours, she was faced with betrayal, brutality and terror at the hands of someone she trusted,’’ the friend, YoLanda Robinson, read from Queen Julius’ statement about the victim. “Her life and future were stolen by a thief disguised as a friend.’’
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at [email protected]
Source: Asbury Park