Two upstate New York men accused of butchering a Troy family just days before Christmas were indicted on murder charges Friday.
James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 22, pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Friday afternoon in Rensselaer County. They’re being held without bail.
Both men are charged with nine counts of first-degree murder; four counts of second-degree murder; first-degree burglary; and first-degree robbery.
They also face two counts of criminal possession of stolen property—listed in the 17-count indictment as an Xbox system and flat-screen television.
The murders sent shockwaves through the Capital Region. As The Daily Beast previously reported, Shanta Myers, 36, and her girlfriend, 22-year-old Brandi Mells, were found slain in their basement apartment on Dec. 26.
Myers’ children, 5-year-old Shanise and 11-year-old Jeremiah, also died in the gruesome quadruple homicide. Authorities said all four victims had been bound by their feet and ankles and their throats were slit.
Prosecutors say the family was killed the night of Dec. 21. Five days later, a property manager conducting a welfare check at the request of Mells’ and Myers’ relatives found the victims’ bodies and called police.
Myers’ oldest son, 15-year-old Isaiah Smith, is the sole survivor of his family. Smith was away in Massachusetts during the slayings.
Last week, a relative of Myers told The Daily Beast that the younger defendant, Mann, was friends with Mells. “I never seen him before a day in my life … but some of my family members recognize him as Brandi’s friend,” said Myers’ nephew, Khalif Coleman. “ He supposedly always hung out with her.”
The allegations surrounding the stolen Xbox and TV are new—and appear to coincide with Mells’ Christmas shopping days before she died.
A review of Facebook posts shows that Mells searched online classifieds for video games and toys for Myers’ children. Around the same time, Mells tried to sell some winter tires for $200 in a local Facebook group.
“Is anybody still adopting kids for xmas i have a 5, 11, an [sic] 15 year old,” Mells wrote on Dec. 19, in one Albany-area Facebook group. “Pockets are tight dont really have it anything helps. Games toys clothes shoes.”
Mells specifically searched for Xbox and Playstation games.
“If anyone have ps3 or xbox1 systems with games for my two boys they don’t have anything for Christmas anything help,” Mells wrote Dec. 17.
Rensselaer County district attorney Joel Abelove has not disclosed a motive for the murders. and likely won’t until the trial begins, a spokesman said.
Following the indictment, Abelove told a Spectrum News reporter he was pleased that the grand jury brought charges but said, “There’s nothing good about this case.”
“I’m glad for the families that there’s an ability for the case to move along at this point,” Abelove said, adding, “But there’s nothing to be happy about, so to speak. This is just a tragic situation.”
Both defendants have criminal pasts.
Mann was convicted of first-degree robbery in Queens, New York, in 2014 and released on parole in June, state records show.
White pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 1999 stabbing of a Bronx man during an apartment break-in, CBS6 reported. He was released from prison in 2010.
Earlier on Friday, a judge denied a request to release White from jail. His defense attorney, Greg Cholakis, asked for White’s freedom after a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled.
Cholakis argued that per state law, White shouldn’t be locked up without an indictment or preliminary hearing, the Albany Times Union reported.
White was arraigned on a new count of first-degree murder on Thursday—a maneuver Cholakis claimed was designed to keep his client in jail without new evidence.
Meanwhile, Mann was held on a parole violation.
His attorney, Joseph Ahearn, also questioned the DA’s tactic to apparently buy more time before a preliminary hearing.
“In 20 years, I’ve never seen a DA come in and file a new felony complaint because they couldn’t move forward,” Ahearn told the AP.