Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced  that on December 9, 2020, Merrill Spencer, 39, of Lakewood was sentenced to thirty years in New Jersey State Prison by the Honorable Rochelle Gizinski, J.S.C., as a result of his previously entered guilty plea to Aggravated Manslaughter in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a(1).  This sentence is subject to the terms of the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2; Spencer will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his prison sentence before he may be considered for parole eligibility. Spencer pled guilty to Aggravated Manslaughter before Judge Gizinski on November 22, 2019, and has been lodged in the Ocean County Jail since his arrest on June 13, 2016.

On June 13, 2016, Officers from the Lakewood Township Police Department responded to the area of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Lakewood. The Officers discovered the body of Johntel Thomas, 23, of Toms River, with an apparent gunshot wound to the chest lying on the sidewalk; Mr. Thomas was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.  Detectives from the Lakewood Township Police Department and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit were able to locate and interview witnesses to the shooting, which led to the discovery of video surveillance footage identifying Spencer as the shooter.  Spencer was subsequently arrested and charged accordingly.

Prosecutor Billhimer wishes to acknowledge the diligent efforts of Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Kristin Pressman and Assistant Prosecutor Kaitlyn Burke who handled the case on behalf of the State.  Additionally, Prosecutor Billhimer commends the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crime Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Advocacy Unit, Lakewood Township Police Department and Detective Bureau, and Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, for their combined and collective assistance in this investigation which ultimately resulted in Spencer’s lengthy state prison sentence.