March 29, 2013

Hallandale Beach baby’s death ruled a homicide; parents likely to face more severe charges

A baby boy whose disappearance wasn’t reported for 18 months died violently, it was found. His parents could now face more serious charges.

A baby whose tiny bones were found buried in the backyard of a Hallandale Beach rental home in January died by “violence of undetermined means,” the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Friday.

That ruling prompted the Hallandale Beach Police Department to declare Dontrell Melvin’s death a homicide, which could lead to one or both of the baby’s parents facing more severe charges.

Brittney Sierra, 21, and Calvin Melvin, 27, have been in jail since Jan. 11, two days after police learned of Dontrell’s disappearance.

She faces two felony neglect charges and he faces three felony charges of giving police false information and two neglect charges.

“Now that we have the results, it will be up the Broward state attorney’s office to make a determination as to how to proceed with the case,” said Hallandale Beach Police Maj. Thomas Honan. “This was the missing piece.”

On Friday, Broward state attorney’s office spokesman Ron Ishoy said his office has not yet received the paperwork that it needs to proceed to the next level.

Although both parents are implicated in the boy’s disappearance, it may be difficult to determine who actually killed the child.

While being interviewed by Hallandale Beach Police detectives, Sierra and Melvin pointed their fingers at each other.

Sierra told investigators that if the baby died then “Melvin did it,” according to documents released by the state attorney’s office earlier this month.

When she was asked how Melvin would have killed the child, Sierra replied Melvin would have used the blue pillow in his stroller to suffocate him.

Meanwhile, Melvin told investigators that if something happened to the baby, Sierra was responsible. He even drew a diagram of the backyard of the house they were renting at the time of the child’s disappearance, marking the spot where he said 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 baby’s skeletal remains.

According to the University of North Texas lab which carried out the DNA analysis, the remains are “approximately 31.2 trillion times more likely’’ to be the biological child of Sierra and Melvin than anyone else.

By Jan. 25, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney was able to piece together about 90 percent of the tiny skeletal remains.

Dontrell Melvin was last seen in July 2011, when he was 5 months old.

He was reported missing 18 months later, when a Florida Department of Children & Families caseworker went to the home Sierra shared with her two other young sons, mother and half-siblings.

A hotline tip alleged Sierra was smoking marijuana mixed with another drug in front of her children, and verbally using them.

When police questioned Melvin about the missing boy, he told them he had taken the child to his mother’s in Pompano Beach. But Annie Melvin told police she hadn’t seen Dontrell since he was 2 months old.

Calvin Melvin then told police that Sierra had given Dontrell 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.

But Sierra had a different story to tell.

The last time she saw Dontrell, she said, Melvin was pushing him in his stroller from their home, walking to a store for cigarettes.

An hour later, he returned without the baby.

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

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.

“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 that boy’s father.

On Friday, Sierra’s attorney, Dohn Williams Jr. said he had not yet seen the medical examiner’s ruling on Dontrell’s death, but it would have to be “scrutinized.”

Right now, the charges Sierra faces are based on her not reporting that her baby was missing, not that she physically hurt him, he said.

“They are going to have to make a determination of who they think physically harmed the child,” Williams said.

Melvin’s attorney, Ed Hoeg, also said he hadn’t see the ruling yet, but said he would “have to look at the evidence.”

“I want to know what they are basing this ruling on.”

While police say Melvin and Sierra have not yet been charged in the baby’s death, Bob Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, said given the evidence, more severe charges are likely.

“It seems clear that the charges are going to be upgraded to murder, at least initially,” he said. “The evidence certainly points in that direction.”

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