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Motive still a mystery in Troy murders

Motive still a mystery in Troy murders

Schenectady men charged with the murders of four.
Motive still a mystery in Troy murders
James W. White leaves court Saturday morning after being arraigned on murder charges.
Photographer: Peter Barber

Two Schenectady men killed a Troy mother, two of her children and her partner, police said Saturday.

Police arrested James W. White, 38, of 850 Albany St., and Justin C. Mann, 24, of 627 Hamilton St., and charged them with multiple counts of murder, including first-degree murder. 

Both have previously been to state prison, White for manslaughter, records show.

Police took them into custody at Mann's address in Schenectady, questioned them and arrested them, Troy Police Chief John Tedesco said at a morning press conference.

Police believe the two killed Shanta Myers, 36; her children Jeremiah "J.J." Myers, 11 and Shanise Myers, 5, and her partner Brandi Mells, 22.

Their bodies were found dead Tuesday in their basement apartment at 158 Second Ave., the day after Christmas. Police now say they believe the victims were killed the evening of Dec 21. 

One of the the two men knew the family, Tedesco said. He declined to say which one knew them or how. No motive has been determined, he said.

"I don't need to tell you how good it feels to have these two defendants in custody," Tedesco told reporters.

Both men were arraigned in Troy City Court Saturday morning and ordered held.

The courtroom was packed with family, friends and reporters. Mann appeared emotional in his arraignment. Family and friends audibly reacted as the cases were called and as they concluded. Family members did not comment afterward.

Tedesco praised the work of his department, the state police, state parole, Schenectady police and other agencies on the case, as well as help from the families and public.

State police Maj. Robert Patnaude suggested that cameras, both public street cameras and private cameras, were instrumental in laying down the timeline in the case.

"We're confident that we have the right people here," Patnaude told reporters. "We're confident that we're going to be able to put a great case together. It's going to get better as the days and months go on, as the forensic evidence develops."

If convicted of first-degree murder, the pair would face life in prison without the possibility of parole. The top count is based on the multiple deaths in the case, Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove said. He said he met with the families afterward. 

"Our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims and their families," Abelove said. "They have suffered an unspeakable loss."

The scene of the murders was quiet Saturday morning. Police released the apartment late in the week. Against a tree just down from the scene, a small memorial of balloons, flowers and at least one teddy bear honored the victims.

Shanta Myers has been remembered as a mother who loved to cook. Her son loved to play basketball and hoped to be a fireman someday. Mells, Shanta's partner, took in the family after they lost a previous apartment.

The scene of the arrests in Schenectady, 627 Hamilton St., in Schenectady, was also largely quiet, but for two police vehicles nearby. A Schenectady police SUV sat out front, while a Troy police cruiser sat across the street. 

A woman who lived nearby said police had been at the address since Friday night.

Both defendants have been to state prison previously for crimes -- manslaughter and robbery -- in New York City, state records show.

White received 11 years in state prison in 2000 for first-degree manslaughter in the Bronx, state correction records show. He was initially released in April 2009, having reached a certain percentage of his term. He returned to prison for another seven months starting later in 2009.

Mann received five years in state prison in 2010 in Queens for first-degree robbery, state records show. He was released in June and was to remain under parole supervision until December 2019.

Details of either case could not be found Saturday. State corrections investigators and parole officers worked closely with police on the investigation, officials said.

The arrests came after multiple public appeals from police, family and others for information to find the killers. A local pastor doubled his reward offer Friday to $10,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions.

The Troy Boys & Girls Club is also raising money through a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of funeral services for the victims. Jeremiah had been a member of the club for six years. By early Saturday evening, that effort had raised more than $34,000.

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