An Ocean County man has been sentenced to three decades in state prison for aggravated manslaughter.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer says 39-year-old Merrill Spencer of Lakewood was sentenced Wednesday as a result of a previously entered guilty plea to aggravated manslaughter.

Authorities say this sentence is subject to the terms of the No Early Release Act, which will require Spencer to serve at least 85 percent of his prison sentence before he may be considered for parole eligibility.

Spencer pled guilty before a judge last November 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.

Spencer was initially arrested on charges of murder, unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose.

Spencer has a history with the law including four years in prison in 2004 on a third-degree cocaine charge out of Wildwood.


With prior reporting from Townsquare Media's Mark Anthony.

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