March 8, 2013

Skeleton found in backyard identified as missing Hallandale Beach baby

The boy’s parents, who are already in jail, will likely have additional charges placed against them.

The tiny bones found buried behind a Hallandale Beach home last month belonged to baby Dontrell Melvin — who wasn’t discovered missing until 18 months after he was last seen — Hallandale Beach police announced Friday.

Police had been waiting on DNA confirmation in order to charge Dontrell’s parents, Britney Sierra, 21, and Calvin Melvin, 27, with his death. Both have been in jail, facing lesser charges.

According to the University of North Texas lab that did the DNA analysis, the remains are “approximately 31.2 trillion times more likely’’ to be the biological child of Sierra and Melvin than any other individuals.

After their arrests in January, Melvin and Sierra blamed each other for the boy’s disappearance.

While being questioned by detectives, Sierra said if the baby were dead, “Melvin did it,” according to documents released this week by the Broward state attorney’s office. When police specifically asked her how he would have killed the child, Sierra said her long-time boyfriend and father of two of her three children would have taken the blue pillow from the stroller and placed it over Dontrell’s face.

But Melvin told detectives that if anything had happened to Dontrell, it was Sierra who had harmed him. He then drew a map of the backyard of the home they had been renting at the time the boy was last seen, and marked where Sierra would have buried the child.

“Sierra is always home with the kids and always by the backyard,” he told detectives, urging them to look under the ground behind the house at 106 NW First Ave.

The next day, that’s exactly where they found the tiny skeletal remains.

Dontrell Melvin was last seen in July 2011, when he was 5 months old. He wasn’t reported missing for 18 months, when a Florida Department of Children & Families caseworker went to the home Sierra shared with her mother, half-siblings and sons.

Dozens of complaints had come into the child welfare hotline about Sierra and her mother. The latest: Sierra was smoking marijuana mixed with another drug in front of her children, and verbally using them.

Child Protective Investigations Section Investigator Maria Ventura went to the home on Jan. 9 and realized the boy was missing.

When police questioned Melvin, he said he had dropped the boy off with his mother in Pompano Beach. But police soon found that Annie Melvin hadn’t seen Dontrell since he was 2 months old.

Calvin Melvin then told police that Sierra gave the baby to one of her family members, who was visiting from New Jersey.

“Melvin stated he was upset, but accepted Sierra’s explanation,” the detectives wrote in the report.

Calvin told police he had a bad feeling.

“‘I don’t want that f------ baby anymore,’” Melvin quoted Sierra as saying. He also described his girlfriend as “a psycho who cuts herself.”

Sierra told a different story.

The last time she saw Dontrell, Melvin was pushing him in his stroller from their home, walking north on Northwest First Avenue to a story to buy cigarettes.

An hour later, he returned without the baby.

He told her he had run into his mother and given the baby to her because he and Sierra were having financial difficulties.

Sierra told police she begged to visit her baby, but Melvin always had an excuse.

Three times she called Annie Melvin’s home to ask about Dontrell, and each time she was told the child wasn’t there, according to the State Attorney’s Office documents.

That December, she signed Dontrell up for a charity Christmas gift program, indicating the child would be 9½ months old. She also continued to collect food stamps in Dontrell’s name.

“Based on the arguments, Sierra accepted that Dontrell was OK with Melvin’s family and moved on day after day without Dontrell in her life,” Hallandale Beach detectives wrote.

Sierra became pregnant with her third child; Melvin is the boy’s father.

Using the map drawn by Melvin, and with the help of a cadaver dog, on Jan. 11 the delicate remains belonging to Dontrell were dug up from the couple’s former backyard.

DCF took Sierra’s two remaining children and her four half-siblings, and placed them in a state home.

By Jan. 25, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney was able to piece together about 90 percent of the tiny skeletal remains. She told police there was no evidence of blunt trauma to the bones before they were buried. However, at some point during the search and recovery, there was postmortem blunt trauma to the cranium, she advised.

Ed Hoeg, Melvin’s attorney, said last week that he would be looking into whether that might compromise the case against his client.

“If there is only trauma afterward, did the damage destroy evidence?” he said.

Melvin faces three felony counts of providing false information to police.

Sierra remains in the Broward County Jail facing two counts of child neglect.

With the skeleton now firmly identified as Dontrell’s, both likely face more charges in the baby’s death.

Sierra’ attorney, Dohn Williams Jr., said on Friday that he hadn’t seen the findings nor was he familiar with the laboratory that performed the tests.

“The cause of death and time of death are the key issues in this case,’’ he said.

Miami Herald staff writer Elinor J. Brecher contributed to this report.

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