Missing NJ woman found buried in backyard — after friend killed her, prosecutors say
FREEHOLD — The body of a Linden mother who disappeared in March turned up Tuesday night, buried in the backyard of a Long Branch home. Prosecutors on Wednesday charged two people with the slaying of Tyrita Julius — one of whom was the 41-year-old's best friend.
Additionally, prosecutors said the two suspects also were responsible for a 2015 shooting in which a gunman pumped several rounds into Julius and shot at her young daughter, grazing her, as the two sat in their car in front of their Linden home.
Her friend, Jennifer Sweeney, 32, of Tinton Falls, and Andre Harris, 32, of Long Branch, are being held at Monmouth County Correctional Institution with bail set at $1.5 million for each on the homicide charges. Officials also did not reveal what Harris' relationship was to Julius.
They were charged by Monmouth prosecutors with first-degree murder, second-degree desecration of human remains and fourth-degree and tampering of physical evidence.
Prosecutors in Union County, meanwhile, charged the pair with the November 2015 shooting, which had remained an open case until this week. They face two additional counts of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree conspiracy, and two counts of second-degree weapons offenses. They face an additional $500,000 bail on these charges.
Sweeney was described as a good friend of Julius and the two spent time together in Tinton Falls just before Julius disappeared, Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said Wednesday.
Even though she was involved with the shooting of Julius, prosecutors say Sweeney visited Julius in the hospital after that November incident.
In March, Tyrita's mother called Linden police after she did not return home and phone calls and text messages were not returned. She told police that Sweeney told her she had dropped Tyrita at the Long Branch train station.
Authorities later began to doubt Sweeney's story.
"Tyrita was not dropped off at the Long Branch Train Station, instead Tyrita was murdered,” Gramiccioni said.
A five-month investigation into Tyrita's disappearance ended with the discovery of Tyrita's body Tuesday night. The body was wrapped in a plastic tarp and buried under 3 feet of soil, according to Gramiccioni, who said the entire backyard will be dug up.
While the case may have been solved, questions remain about what prosecutors believed motivated the suspects — and whether Julius knew that her friend was involved in the shooting last year.
Gramiccioni apologized to friends and family of Tyria that the case did not end a they would have liked.
"We hope this gives you some level of closure," Gramiccioni said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon attended by to several people wearing "Tyrita Strong" and "Team Tyrita" t-shirts.