UNION COUNTY, NJ — A Union man accused of murdering his Cranford girlfriend in 2013, dismembering her body and disposing of it in Newark marshland, said in a recent jailhouse interview his $5.5 million bail is “unfair.”
“I did not kill her, it was a vehicular accident,” said Matthew Ballister, 45, in an exclusive interview with LocalSource Feb. 6 at the Union County Jail, adding he loved April Wyckoff, 43, and “thought she was the one.”
“We were doing drugs, free-basing cocaine,” the Union resident said, asking specifically that this information be made public.
However, when Ballister sat down with LocalSource, he spent a good part of the hour and 45 minutes talking about the reasons his bail should be reduced.
“The average bail in Union County for murder one is $1 million. Why is my bail four or five times that?” he said during the interview and in the letter to LocalSource.
Ballister was arrested Oct. 23, 2013, the day after authorities converged on his Mercer Avenue home and charged him with Wyckoff’s murder. Subsequently he was held in the county jail on $2 million bail, as 200 municipal, county and state law-enforcement officials searched for the victim’s body in Hudson, Essex and Union counties.
According to a complaint filed in October 2013 in Superior Court in Elizabeth, Ballister entered Wyckoff’s car to attack her, threatening her and then restraining her in his Union home. The complaint also claimed Ballister obstructed witnesses from providing authorities with information “by means of force,” lied to police about what transpired and attempted to conceal the crime.
The additional charges, police said at the time, were based on statements from witnesses, video camera surveillance, a search of Ballister’s home and his Hummer H2 vehicle.
Ballister’s mother, Eleanor Schofield, of Mountainside, was also arrested and pleaded not guilty to a charge of hindering a police investigation and helping to hide evidence. Schofield was released after posting bail in 2013.
Days later when the mutilated body of the Cranford mother of two was found in five black plastic bags along the edge of the Passaic River in Newark, authorities added charges and Ballister’s bail was increased from $2 million to $5.5 million.
At the time, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said there was enough evidence indicating the method of murder was blunt force trauma and Wyckoff was killed sometime in the evening hours Oct. 22, 2013. Part of this evidence included Ballister’s next door neighbor calling the Union police the following day to report they saw a body, clad only in a bra and panties, under Ballister’s Hummer in the driveway.
In addition to the first-degree felony murder charge for killing Wyckoff while restraining her, Ballister was also charged with two counts of desecration of human remains, and single counts of hindering apprehension, burglary, making terroristic threats, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon.
Superior Court Judge Robert J. Mega approved the addition of $3.5 million to the $2 million bail already levied against Ballister, citing the seriousness of the charges, the risk of flight and likelihood that he would be imprisoned for life if convicted at trial.
Meanwhile, Ballister, who pleaded not guilty to the nine charges against him, has been held in the Union County Jail ever since, awaiting trial.
While the inmate initially had a series of lawyers working on his behalf, that is longer no the case. The Union resident said he has no choice but to have a public defender represent him.
Despite the serious charges levied against him, the former audio engineer continues to maintain his innocence, aggressively pleading his case for bail reduction. So far, though, the inmate said he has been unable to get any response to his claim that the $5.5 million bail is more than the amount usually set for similar charges.
Ballister sent LocalSource a 12-page letter in January, in addition to a 42-page missive, explaining the legal reasoning behind his belief that bail was set unreasonably high in this particular case. He also asked for a face-to-face consultation visit with LocalSource and on Feb. 6, on the 7th floor of the county jail in Elizabeth, that meeting took place.
A consultation visit is unlike a regular jail visit where glass separates the inmate from the visitor and where all conversation takes place over an in-house phone or microphone.
Instead, inmate and attorney, or in this case a reporter, sit opposite one another in a tiny, cinderblock room where the only furnishings are a small two-foot-wide flimsy metal table and two chairs. A long, narrow window looks out on the street below, which flanks the county administration building and rear of the courthouse.
Visitors approved for consultation visits by the county and jail director have to wait until the inmate is patted down for contraband, shackled and brought to an available consultation area. Depending on what part of the jail they are located, the wait can be as long as a half hour.
But, eventually, the floor shaking sound of jail doors opening and closing warn that the inmate is making his way through the hallways of the county jail. Minutes tick by until a corrections officer announces that Ballister is in a holding area and about to be brought into the room.
Hands and feet heavily shackled, the balding, grey haired Ballister shuffled into the tight consultation area wearing beige two-piece jail-issued scrubs and feet clad in plastic flip flops. After a corrections officer checked the locking mechanism on the inmate’s hands multiple times, he nodded and then left the consultation room, but stood guard within inches of the closed door during the entire interview period.
The door, though, has a window, in addition to another large window opening up to the area where corrections officers carefully monitor the consultation rooms.
Congenial and calm, a smiling Ballister brought with him a foot-high stack of files, pictures and other paperwork, which he was unable to access because of being shackled. He did explain why he was seeking bail reduction, reiterating what he said in his letter to LocalSource.
“The criminal justice system is so broken and out of control that they immediately seized upon a horrific tragedy and sensationalized it so they could try to capitalize on the situation,” the inmate said.
Ballister said during the interview with LocalSource that his bail was “ridiculous and outrageous,” which left him no choice but to fight for his legal rights.
As a result, the inmate said he is submitting a complaint against this judge to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, with the hope of getting his bail reduced. If it is reduced, he said, he then will be able to post bail, get out of jail and defend himself against the nine charges he is facing.
In his 42-page complaint to the advisory committee, the inmate argued that he is innocent of the charges against him.
“Of course I did not kill anyone but yet I have been sequestered and silenced in jail, misunderstood and preyed upon by law enforcement and tried and convicted by the media,” Ballister said in the complaint, adding the judge “continues to demonstrate an agenda against me as well as violate my constitutional rights as a citizen of the United States and of New Jersey.”
Ballister told LocalSource he had a clean record before being accused of murder as well as a successful business as an audio engineer dealing with companies such as Merck, American Express and Nintendo. In fact, he said, he donated his sound reinforcement system and services to the Union Police Department National Night Out in September 2013.
“April and I were at that event together and we had a good time,” the inmate said.
During the jailhouse interview Ballister pointed out multiple times that usually when there is a murder charge, bail is set at $250,000 to $1 million. Considering the other charges against him, though, he felt a reasonable bail amount should be between $1.6 to $1.7 million.
“Constitutionally, via the United States and the state of New Jersey, everyone has a right to pretrial bail, except in capital punishment cases. Since the death penalty has been abolished in New Jersey, case law has been very clear that the definition of capital punishment is when the death penalty may be instituted,” said the inmate.
Ballister used Ibrahim Yousef, the Jersey City man and accused killer who shot two people at point blank range and then dismembered and hid the bodies, as an example of how bail should have been set in his case.
“Yousef’s bail was set at $3.3 million and that was considered high,” said the inmate, pointing out “at $5.5 million my bail is so ridiculously overblown that it calls attention to itself for being so excessive. This is a very clear violation of my rights as in the 5th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
Ballister cited as further evidence a number of other inmates at the Union County Jail that have been charged with murder, noting that while they were charged with similar offenses, their bail was set anywhere from $750,000 to $1.5 million.
In his complaint to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, Ballister said his excessively high bail was hindering his defense because it was difficult to interview and hire attorneys from jail.
“About half the attorneys I have contacted since being incarcerated don’t even have a phone compatible with a GTL phone system of calling here at the jail,” he added.
“If I can’t communicate with my attorney, how can he help me?” the inmate asked, pointing out he switched attorneys three times because “they appeared ineffective against Judge Mega.”
Ballister said this has caused him considerable financial hardship and “wasted precious time that I need for my case.”
The inmate said the reason previous attorneys were ineffective had specifically to do with the fact that Mega “appeared to act outside the laws and New Jersey State guidelines as well as the constitution of the United States and New Jersey.”
As a result, Ballister requested in his complaint that Mega be removed from presiding over his case and excused from any proceedings involving him.
Ballister went into detail about the New Jersey Statewide Bail Schedule, arguing that bail range for first degree murder is usually $250,000 to $1 million, without a 10 percent option. This means an inmate is not given the option of posting 10 percent of the total bail amount in order to get out of jail.
Prior to the interview concluding, Ballister said that he is trying to come to terms with the accusations against him and pleaded not guilty for a reason.
“Now I am considered a murderer and monster, I am locked away from any means to help myself, I am denied access to any law libraries and the police have taken all my pictures, files, evidence and records,” he said.
“I loved my girlfriend very much and we had plans to marry, or at least I thought that was the plan. As it appears from the evidence, the only intention she had was using me and taking whatever she could and discarding me,” Ballister said, adding the legal system and domestic violence laws have been “her partner in this whole plan that she put together.”
The inmate said he based this on the fact that in June 2013 Wyckoff pressed charges against Ballister for domestic violence, but no restraining order was ever filed against him by the Union Police Department. By September, he said, the two were back together.
A little more than a month later Wyckoff was dead, her two children left without a mother.