Monica Paul Remembered As Loving Mother

(by Tanya Drobness - July 03, 2008)

Her pretty smile was hard to break.

Those who knew Monica Paul remember that smile, the smile she wore while watching her 4-year-old son, Noah, take swimming lessons last Thursday evening before tragedy struck.

In the pool observation area in the Helen & Bill Geyer YMCA Family Center on June 26, Paul’s life was taken by gunfire near Noah and her 11-year-old daughter, Essence, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Kenneth Anton Duckett, 37, the father of the two children and a suspect in the case, has not been found. Paul, 31, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities.

Now, Paul’s smile is the heartbreaking image that remains in people’s memories.

After driving home yesterday afternoon from the YMCA center, where Paul’s father was comforted by facility staffers, Lionel Paul told The Times that his daughter intended to bring him dinner the night she died.

"Monica was my life," Lionel Paul said, weeping as he spoke. "I don’t know how I am going to live without her."

"The day she died, she called me at 6 o’clock to tell me she was going to cook for me. ‘Daddy, I’m going to come over and bring food to you,’" he sobbed.

Earlier this week, Monica Paul’s cousin, James Paul, helped make arrangements to bury the "sweet" girl he grew up with on Maple Avenue in Montclair. James Paul described Paul as family-oriented and devoted to her children.

"She loved to laugh. Just any joke," James Paul told The Times. "It was all about family," he said, adding that Paul took courses at Essex County Community College in Newark after she graduated from Montclair High School in 1995.

Before her death, Paul was working as an insurance investigator for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, James Paul said. She had recently been living in Montclair’s South End on Orange Road near her mother, Joanne Paul, who is a member of Montclair’s Christ Church. The funeral is being held at the church today at 11 a.m.

The church’s pastoral team is providing the family with pastoral counsel, a Christ Church spokesperson said.

Brandi Drake, associate pastor at Montclair’s Grace Presbyterian Church, along with members of the Montclair African American Clergy Association and the Montclair Clergy Association, will hold a public ceremony to reopen the YMCA center with prayers and blessings on Monday, July 7, at 7:30 a.m. in the facility’s parking lot.

The 30-minute ceremony is being held to "give the staff an opportunity for closure and for the community to re-acknowledge the purpose of the building as a place of help and nurture for children," said Drake, who will lead the ceremony. Following the ceremony, the YMCA Family Center will reopen at 8:30 a.m., Drake said.

Robert Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, said the organization is offering free counseling to those affected by the incident. "It’s important to remind those folks, particularly the kids who witnessed the event … that the community understands what they are going through, and that we support them."

As a child, Paul was a bright student, full of life and delightfully polite, remembered the Rev. Clenard Childress of The New Calvary Baptist Deliverance Outreach Church on Maple Avenue.

"She would frequent the youth meetings on Friday nights," said Childress, who had known Paul,since she was 13 years old. He also has known Duckett since his teenage years. Childress said Duckett was "walking the chalk line of danger as a youth," but seemed to have "straightened up his life" in recent years and appeared "jovial."

"He has had some brushes with the law, but once again, nothing I believe of a violent nature," Childress told The Times, adding that he ran into Duckett and son Noah at Montclair’s Pathmark Supermarket about a week ago, when he "looked upbeat."

Other Montclair religious leaders are extending support to Paul’s family and friends. "On behalf of all of the faith community in Montclair, we extend our deepest condolences to these children who have lost a mother and to a family who has lost a daughter," said the Rev. Walter L. Parrish III, of Union Baptist Church.

The Rev. Billy Dalger, associate minister at New Calvary who had known Paul since she was 16 years old, said, "She definitely had a lot of Christian values."

Of Paul’s relationship with Duckett, Dalger said, "They got together young … but I know they had been separated longer than they had been together."

The minister said it was important to Paul that Duckett was in their children’s lives.

As she prepared for her sister’s wake yesterday, her voice trembling and holding back tears, Lauren Paul told The Times that the situation seems "unreal." She said, "It’s hard … I feel like I could still call her, and still see her."

Sharifa Brown, of East Orange, a close friend of Paul’s since they met at Glenfield Middle School, said that Paul "was an excellent student" and "always vibrant."

Attending Montclair High School in the early 1990s, Paul could be seen clad in the latest trends, usually touting her favorite Liz Claiborne purses, Brown reminisced.

But more important than her perfect hair, winning smile and pristine complexion was Paul’s big heart. Brown remembered most the time Paul came to her mother’s funeral in 2005.

"It meant a lot that she was there … Monica did care about people," Brown recalled. "She’s the type of person you would never forget about."

NJ Fugitive Sought in Brutal Slaying at the YMCA

Cops say on June 26, 2008, a Montclair, N.J. YMCA turned into a shooting gallery when an estranged boyfriend opened fire on his ex-girlfriend.

Essex county investigators say Kenneth Duckett tracked down the mother of his children, Monica Paul and callously pumped multiple shot into her body on the observation deck of a nearby indoor swimming pool at the YMCA center.

Authorities say Paul was watching her 4-year-old son as he frolicked in the swimming pool when Duckett approached. Within seconds, Duckett produced a gun and began firing at the mother of his two children -- killing her in front of her 11-year-old child. The incident sent bystanders ducking for cover.

With his mission accomplished, police say the 37-year-old from Orange, N.J. and an accomplice fled the center in a white Jeep. Authorities later located the Jeep, but Duckett was nowhere to be found.

Police say Paul had taken out a restraining order on Duckett, which he violated when he tracked her down.

Police describe Duckett as a black male of Jamaican descent. He is 5'9" tall, weighing approximately 140 - 160 lbs. Detectives say Duckett is known to wear a mustache and goatee, but since the shooting he may have cut his hair or taken on a disguise to hide his identity.

Cops say he has been known to use the alias "Kenneth Anton Duckett," and previously worked in the mortgage industry.

Authorities have issued a warrant for Duckett's arrest on murder and weapons charges.

Giblin: I want Monica's Law fast-tracked for 2009

(by Terrence T. McDonald - April 01, 2009)

Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin announced this past Tuesday night that he has asked a state legislative committee to fast-track Monica’s Law, which would limit visitation rights for fathers accused of domestic violence. The proposed legislation is named after the late Montclair resident Monica Paul, who was slain last June inside the Helen & Bill Geyer YMCA Family Center on Glenridge Avenue. Paul’s death was a "tragic loss for Montclair," and it has made Giblin more aware of domestic violence cases, he said during a community meeting this past Tuesday evening hosted by 4th Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville. "It just seems to jump out at me a bit more than it used to," said Giblin, a Montclair resident. Monica’s Law would give a mother the right to withhold visitation rights from the father of her children if there are documented instances of domestic violence, such as hospital or police reports. Visitation rights would be reinstated after the father undergoes risk assessment analysis. The law would also mandate a three- to five-year prison sentence for restraining order violations. Currently, offenders receive up to 18 months in prison for violating restraining orders. Paul obtained a restraining order against Kenneth A. Duckett, her ex-husband and the suspect in her homicide, in October 2007, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Giblin has requested Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein, Democrat of Middlesex and Mercer counties and chair of the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, to give Monica’s Law priority over other legislation reviewed by the committee. Some form of the law will hopefully pass through the Legislature by the end of 2009, he said. "We want to bounce it off the appropriate agencies" to test its Constitutionality, Giblin told The Times. Joanne Paul, the victim’s mother, received a standing ovation after she discussed Monica’s Law during Baskerville’s meeting. When there are documented cases of domestic violence, fathers should be more seriously watched, Paul said. "I’d like to see more children safe, their mothers safe," she said. Dressed in an electric blue shirt pinned with a button featuring a picture of her late daughter, Paul was emotional but steady as she spoke to the crowd assembled in the second floor of the Montclair Fire Department Headquarters on Pine Street. Her daughter’s loss has created a void, but the Paul family is pressing on, she said. "I plan not to tire of this," Paul vowed. "

Remembering Monica Paul

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monica Paul, whose life was cut tragically short last June, would have turned 32 tomorrow. Tonight, Monica's mother Joanne will speak at the Montclair Fire Headquarters, 1 Pine Street, about her family's efforts to enact "Monica's Law," which would strength protections against domestic violence.

 Monica grew up on Maple Avenue and graduated from Montclair High School in 1995. Lawyers for Kenneth Duckett, who is accused of murdering her, has asked for the murder charge to be changed to manslaughter.

Orange man pleads not guilty in Montclair YMCA shooting death

by Carmen Juri/The Star-Ledger

Wednesday March 18, 2009 The man accused in the shooting death of his estranged wife at the Montclair YMCA last June pleaded not guilty today to murder in Superior Court in Newark.

Prosecutors say Kenneth Duckett, 37, shot Monica Paul on June 26 next to the pool at the YMCA while she watched their 4-year-old son take swimming lessons. Their 11-year-old daughter was next to her when she was shot.

Duckett then fled the state, said Assistant Prosecutor Holly Armstrong, and U.S. marshals apprehended him on July 8 at a relative's house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

Another relative, Basil Stewart, was also arraigned today and pleaded not guilty to third degree hindering prosecution, she said. Stewart allegedly knew where Duckett was hiding in Brooklyn. He faces from three to five years in prison if convicted.

Duckett is being charged with murder, second degree unlawful possession of a weapon, and second degree possession of a weapon with unlawful purpose. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. He remains in custody at the Essex County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Paul had previously filed domestic violence charges against Duckett, said Assistant Prosecutor Greg De Mattia, director of the office's Homicide Squad, who is prosecuting the case. Investigators said they believe there was an incident earlier that day that may have ignited Duckett's rage.

At today's arraignment, Paul's mother, Joanne Paul, said she will never get over the death of her 31-year-old daughter.

"There will always be that part that is missing," said Paul, who is raising her daughter's two children. "I'm the voice for Monica and her children."

She said the months leading up to today's arraignment have been long and arduous, and going through each court proceeding prolongs her pain, but she wants justice for her daughter.

"It's hard, but I want to go through it every step of the way. Let justice be done for Monica, no matter how long it takes," she said.

Duckett's defense attorney, Thomas R. Ashley, said his client will be examined by a psychiatrist to determine his state of mind at the time of the shooting.

"He was clearly dejected and depressed as a result of some family issues. That contributed greatly to what occurred," Ashley said. "I see it as a classic case of a passion provocation manslaughter, not a murder."

Duckett's next court appearance is scheduled for April 29.

Montclair YMCA Homicide Suspect Indicted by Grand Jury

An Essex County Grand Jury has returned an indictment against an Orange man for fatally shooting his estranged partner at the Helen & Bill Geyer YMCA Family Center in Montclair last summer, Essex County Prosecutor Paula T. Dow today announced.

Kenneth Duckett, 37, has been indicted for slaying Monica Paul, 31, of Montclair, on June 26, 2008, near a YMCA indoor swimming pool observation area, Dow stated.

"It’s a great step to a new beginning," Monica Paul’s father, Lionel Paul told The Times today upon hearing about the indictment. "Now we wait and see what is going to happen. I’m very glad about it. That means the system is working."

Duckett was charged with murder, second degree unlawful possession of a weapon and second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, according to Dow.

He remains in the Essex County Jail on $1 million bail. If convicted, Duckett could face a life sentence in state prison.

Basil Stewart, 46, of Brooklyn, a relative of the defendant, also was names in the indictment, Dow stated. Stewart was charged with third degree hindering prosecution, she stated.

At about 6:30 p.m. on June 26, 2008, Duckett entered the YMCA on Glen Ridge Avenue, confronted his estranged wife and fired several shots with a handgun, then fled the scene, according to Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Gregory DeMattia, director of the homicide squad.

Montclair police discovered Paul’s body near the swimming pool observation area, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

She was pronounced dead at the scene. Paul’s two children, 11-year-old daughter Essence and 4-year-old son Noah, was with her at the time of the shooting, Dow stated.

Noah Duckett was taking swimming lessons at the time of the incident.

"This changed my life completely, by killing my baby. There are no words for me to describe it, or to know how long it’s going to take for things to go back to normal," Lionel Paul said.

On July 8, 2008, Duckett was found hiding in a Brooklyn apartment by the U.S. Marshals New York/New Jersey Fugitive Regional Task Force, Dow stated.

Stewart, who had been cooperating with Montclair Police during the time of the investigation, was allegedly aware of Duckett’s whereabouts in Brooklyn, according to Dow.

Tomorrow, relatives will take flowers to Monica Paul’s gravesite, Lionel Paul said.

"Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. All I’m doing is talking about her, thinking about her."

How manhunt led to YMCA slaying suspect

Kenneth Duckett was gnawing on a piece of jerk chicken in the living room of a Brooklyn apartment Tuesday when there was a knock at the door.

It was the electrician, a burly baldheaded guy in Timberland boots, saggy jeans and a black T-shirt who had been working on a bedroom light fixture and left to get some tools.

Jim Pathe/The Star-LedgerEssex County Prosecutor Paula Dow and Capt. John Cuff of the U.S. Marshals of New York/New Jersey Fugitive Regional Task Force announce the arrest of murder suspect Kenneth Duckett by the marshals in Brooklyn today. When the electrician -- actually an undercover detective -- returned, he brought with him seven officers, their guns drawn.

Duckett sat there stunned, a Yankees cap low over his forehead and the chicken leg hanging from his mouth.

He let it drop to the floor.

"Then he went like a good young man," the "electrician," Detective Rasheen Peppers, said.

Duckett, 37, of Orange, the target of a nationwide manhunt, had been holed up in the Troy Avenue apartment after allegedly gunning down his wife, Monica Paul, at the Montclair YMCA 12 days earlier.

Peppers, a Newark cop assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service, had been staking out the Flatbush neighborhood for five days with other members of a regional fugitive task force. With little to go on but a few vague tips, the agents ended up at the fourth-floor apartment, looking for a guy who fit Duckett's basic description.

Kenneth A. Duckett

A building manager told the agents at 1 a.m. Tuesday the apartment's tenant, a woman, had complained about her lights not working.

A few hours later, Peppers volunteered to pose as an electrician, even though he knew nothing about electricity. He changed his clothes, grabbed a flashlight, a roll of tape and some unfamiliar tools and went upstairs.

The detectives had been working 20-hour days since getting the assignment to track down Duckett on June 30. At that point, it had been four days since Duckett allegedly shot Paul multiple times while their 4-year-old son swam at the Helen and Bill Geyer YMCA Family Center on Glenridge Avenue. Their 11-year-old daughter witnessed the attack.

Duckett had a record of arrests for drugs and theft, and his wife made several allegations of domestic violence against him before obtaining a restraining order last October.

"We knew we were days behind him. There was no way to track him other than getting out there and catching up," Peppers said, adding the task force isn't called in until homicide detectives run out of leads. "In our line of work, no one comes in and turns himself in. We have to go out and find them."

The lead agents, Peppers, Essex County Prosecutor's Office Detective Susan Bzik and U.S. Marshals Service Inspector Daniel Potucek, found some tenuous connections to Brooklyn -- an address on an old arrest, a barbershop owned by Duckett's father and an uncle whose car Duckett drove.

They interviewed the uncle, who said he knew nothing. Then they interviewed Duckett's friends and relatives in Montclair and searched a house in Paterson.

They learned a lot about Duckett: He was quiet, liked go-go bars, didn't drink alcohol but loved Red Bull. None of that got the agents any closer to Duckett.

After exhausting their leads in New Jersey, they turned their focus back to Brooklyn five days ago. They met up with two New York Police Department detectives, Rodney Nessam-Wallace and Kevin Spellman, who acted as their guides. They sat for hours outside clubs and restaurants in a section of Flatbush, showing Duckett's picture around.

"We systematically moved through the neighborhood until we got closer to where he was," Peppers said. "There was nobody who was able to say they saw him."

A police informant looked at the photo and said he'd seen a strange guy going into a nearby building on Troy Avenue, Peppers said. The agents staked out the building with surveillance cameras and spotted someone who fit Duckett's description go into apartment 4A.

Investigators now believe Duckett went to the apartment on the advice of a relative, who was a friend of the tenant who lived in 4A, said two law enforcement sources speaking on the condition of anonymity because no one else has been charged. The tenant apparently did not know why Duckett was hiding, the sources said.

So she had no reason to worry when Peppers knocked on the door yesterday morning. The undercover detective, who stands 6 feet tall and weighs 240 pounds, walked in with a building worker, who backed up Pepper's cover.

"She asked who he was and I said, 'He's the electrician's helper,'" said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. "Then I had him move around the apartment, turning on lights and such."

Peppers said he passed the man in the living room but couldn't tell if it was Duckett. The detective climbed a ladder and fumbled with a light fixture for awhile. He walked back and forth through the apartment, trying to get a good look at the man. When the tenant told Peppers to stop walking through the living room, the detective knew they were getting nervous. So he told them he needed to get more tools from his truck.

Peppers told his partners he thought Duckett was upstairs. They climbed the stairs with him and knocked on the door.

It was about 11 a.m.

Duckett, his chicken breakfast interrupted, didn't put up a fight, Peppers said. "He didn't say anything."

He was taken to a cellblock in the Bronx and is expected to face an extradition hearing, Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow said. His bail in New Jersey was set at $1 million.

Duckett's relative may also face charges, authorities said.

Paul's family members and friends expressed relief yesterday when told of Duckett's capture.

"He's caught. It's a relief that he's caught, but it doesn't bring my cousin back," said Greg Paul, the woman's cousin. "He's a coward and he needs to burn in hell for what he did."