UNION, NJ — Nearly four years after a Cranford woman’s body was found cut up in five separate garbage bags along the Passaic River in Newark, her 47-year-old boyfriend has been convicted in the brutal killing.
Matthew Ballister was found guilty on all counts including first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree desecration of human remains, third-degree hindering apprehension and several other related charges in connection with the killing of April Wyckoff at his Union home, according to a press release from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Sentencing has been scheduled before Judge Stuart Peim for Friday, Dec. 15. Ballister faces a term of life in state prison without parole, the release said.
The guilty verdict came Wednesday, Oct. 18, only a day after prosecutors and defense counsel delivered their closing arguments, finishing the trial that began Sept. 14.
During deliberations, the jury asked to listen again to the testimony of Union County Medical Examiner Junaid Shaikh, in which he ruled Wyckoff’s death a homicide after a noting the “dozens of sharp- and blunt-force pre-mortem injuries inflicted on Wyckoff’s head and legs.”
The jury also asked to listen again to the 9-1-1 phone call Wyckoff made the night she died, Oct. 22, 2013, one in which she told the emergency operator, “I’m going to die. He’s coming back.”
The jury members listened to the recording through headphones and, within minutes, returned their verdict.
Sheila McGraw, Wyckoff’s sister, told Localsource on Oct. 18, that there isn’t a lot the family needs to say, other than “we all love April and miss her so much.”
McGraw and her family created the GoFundMe page, “Justice for April Wyckoff,” in order to assist the family members, who are based in Florida, in attending the trial.
She told LocalSource that it was at the trial that the family first heard Wyckoff’s 9-1-1 phone call, listening along with everyone else in court.
“Brutal, is not a big enough word to describe what happened,” McGraw said. “She was my best friend. It’s just so wrong.”
Ballister was arrested on Oct. 24, 2013, at his home at 375 Mercer Ave., three days before authorities located Wyckoff’s body parts in a remote industrial section of Newark off Raymond Boulevard.
During the trial, Ballister did not dispute that he had killed Wyckoff nor that he had dismembered and discarded her body in Newark. Instead, he insisted that her death was accidental.
During Ballister’s two-days of testimony on Oct. 12 and 13, he said they both had used drugs and described how Wyckoff had allegedly injured herself previously by stabbing herself during an argument with him. He said he had placed her into the back seat of his Hummer in an attempt to get medical treatment for both of them.
Ballister said that by the time he returned from retrieving his car keys, Wyckoff had, unbeknownst to him, gotten out of the vehicle and hidden under the SUV. When he put the vehicle in reverse, he unintentionally ran over her in his driveway.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Scott Peterson, Ballister admitted to dragging Wyckoff’s lifeless body into his garage to dismember and dispose of her remains in black garbage bags.He recalled the sequence of events as a “nightmare-like state” and blamed his drug-induced hysteria for them.
When the trial opened, the prosecution laid out its case, showing the court Ballister’s receipts, phone records and surveillance video filmed after Wyckoff’s death.
Judge Peim noted that Ballister had asked his attorney, Thomas Russo, to obtain an expert on drug addiction to speak about Ballister’s mental state at the time of the crime, but Russo said he had been unable to do so.