Attorney for dad of missing Hallandale Beach baby says evidence was damaged

The tiny bones recovered from a backyard grave have a story to tell: Are these the remains of Dontrell Melvin, a baby whose family didn’t report him missing for 18 months? And how was the baby killed?

According to notes in the Hallandale Beach police lead investigator’s file, there was blunt force trauma to the child’s cranium after his death, likely caused during the search and recovery of the skeleton.

And that, says attorney Ed Hoeg, who is representing the baby’s father, could have an impact on the case against his client.

“If evidence is compromised, it could change how the case goes,” Hoeg said. “You would hope the evidence would be in pristine condition.”

Meanwhile, the missing child’s parents remain in Broward County jails. Brittney Sierra, 21, faces two counts of felony child neglect; Calvin Melvin, 27, was charged with three felony counts of providing false information to police.

But those charges could be increased if a Texas lab confirms that DNA from a tiny skeleton unearthed in January behind the couple’s former Hallandale Beach rental home matches that of their baby, Dontrell Melvin.

Dontrell, who would have turned 2 last month, had not been seen for nearly 18 months before police learned of his disappearance on Jan 9.

At first, Melvin told Hallandale Beach police that the child was with his family in Pompano Beach. But when police went there, they were told by the grandparents that they didn’t have the child and hadn’t seen him.

During questioning by police, Melvin changed his story several times, investigators said.

At one point, he told them he’d taken the baby to a fire station under Florida’s Safe Haven Law.

But police didn’t believe him and began questioning Sierra, as well. The couple, who have another child together, pointed fingers at one another, police said.

Their answers led police to the backyard of their former rental home at 106 NW First Ave.

It was there that tiny bones were found.

Nearly 90 percent of the baby’s remains were recovered and reconstructed. An initial review of the bones did not reveal any trauma to the bones, said Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy.

However, on Jan. 25, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney briefed investigators, including Flournoy, Maj. Thomas Honan and Capt. P. Abut, on the case. In his notes, a Hallandale Beach investigator, who was not identified, wrote: “Dr. Walsh-Haney stated that there were no signs of perimortem blunt trauma. However, there was evidence of a postmortem blunt trauma to the cranium. She stated that said postmortem trauma had probably occurred during the search and recovery of the skeleton.”

The notes were provided to The Miami Herald by Hoeg.

The damage to the cranium, Hoeg said, could prove problematic for the case against his client.

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

But on Friday, Police Chief Flournoy insisted there was not any damage caused post-mortem to the skeleton. “The bones were not compromised in any way,” said Flournoy.

Regardless, the Texas lab working to identify the baby’s remains has enough evidence to work with.

All a scientist needs is a small bone fragment to create a DNA profile, said John Fudenberg, the president-elect for International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

“Unless there is significant trauma noted, it’s very difficult for a medical examiner to determine the cause of death,” Fudenberg added.

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Ellen DeGeneres Pens Open Letter to Supreme Court to Pass Prop 8 for Gay Marriage

With a touch of her trademark humor, Ellen DeGeneres tackles a very serious topic close to the talk show host's heart: gay marriage.

In an open letter posted to her website, Ellen reaches out to members of the Supreme Court, who will soon decide the fate of same-sex couples who wish to wed.

Pics: 'Amazing Race' Stars Cheer Up Bullied Gay Fan

"Portia and I have been married for 4 years and they have been the happiest of my life," she blogs of her longtime partner Portia De Rossi. "And in those 4 years, I don't think we hurt anyone else's marriage. I asked all of my neighbors and they say they're fine."

Ellen, who tied the knot in 2008 during a brief period when gay marriage was legal in California, now urges the powers that be to open their heart and extend the privilege to every gay couple.

"I hope the Supreme Court will do the right thing, and let everyone enjoy the same rights," Ellen writes. "It's going to help keep families together. It's going to make kids feel better about who they are. And it is time."

Related: Neil Patrick Harris: I Knew I was Gay at 6

In closing the comedian writes, "In the words of Benjamin Franklin, 'We're here, we're queer, get over it.'"

Read Ellen's entire plea to the supreme court here.

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Tom Hudson: China’s new leaders plan quiet transition

If everything goes smoothly, you won’t hear much out of China in the new week. And that’s the way its new leaders want it. Even though the world’s second largest economy officially seats a new president and premier, the beginning of China’s parliamentary session on Tuesday comes without the usual pomp and circumstance. Instead, China’s new leaders hope to show their own version of austerity. For instance, there will be no booze at official meals.

The party leaders want a sober beginning to their terms as the hope for a more sober Chinese economy. They want to avoid any significant pronouncements that could threat China’s gentle economic recovery. The country’s biggest trading partner, Europe, continues to struggle, tensions with Japan have been rising and Chinese workers have been demanding (and in some cases getting) pay raises. Chinese home prices have heated up again as the Beijing government moved late last year to stimulate its economy.

It came after China’s economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years. The new government knows that its political stability depends upon a steady economy. With choking air pollution, a horrendous record on food safety and sanctioned corruption, the new slate of leaders taking their seats this week would like to reduce China’s reliance on exports to fuel its economic expansion, reassure its trading partners it wants to play fair and stoke a steady and sustainable rise of living standards.

Since early December as the stimulus efforts began, the Shanghai Stock Exchange index has shot up 21 percent. Electricity production is rising and manufacturing has rebounded too. But the political volume has been muted.

Tom Hudson is a financial journalist based in Miami. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of Nightly Business Report on public television.

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’Les Mis’ touring company works out to stay in shape at Wilton Manors gym

Even if you’re a Broadway dancer in top shape, it’s not easy looking good and staying fit when you’re on the road with a show like Les Misérables.

"Touring is a difficult life because you’re constantly moving," said Trinity Wheeler, production stage manager for the Les Mis touring company, playing through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

"It’s not like you can go to a grocery store and have a kitchen and cook the foods that you want and have a consistent workout schedule. We created something that is consistent for the cast," said Wheeler, who is also a certified trainer. "Eating out every meal and stuff can be challenging to stay healthy. Being healthy and on tour is a goal we all try to accomplish."

Thursday morning, Wheeler held a “Guns of the Barricade” boot camp at Steel Gym in Wilton Manors. The workout session allows cast members and others to stay in shape while they’re on the road, Wheeler said.

The Les Mis touring company has 89 people who travel with the show: cast members, crew and musicians, according to Wheeler.

"It’s a large group of people that have this nomadic lifestyle," he said. "Having fitness incorporated into it, you feel better, you wake up, have more energy. It’s been really great for us as individuals, but also for the show."

Among the touring cast members: Wheeler’s partner, Alan Shaw, who plays Joly. The couple own a house in Fort Lauderdale’s Poinsettia Heights neighborhood.

" Les Mis is three hours long and we do eight shows a week. I realized early on because I’ve been with the show over two years now that if I don’t take care of my body and if I don’t eat right and if I don’t really stay on top of it, I can’t do eight shows a week," Shaw said. "We’re onstage in front of 2,000 people on average every night. You have to look your best. It’s part of our job."

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The CW Says Goodbye to 90210

The CW's remake of the '90s hit show 90210 will reportedly end its five-year run in May.

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According to Us Weekly, the show (starring AnnaLynne McCord, Shenae Grimes, Matt Lanter, Jessica Stroup and Jessica Lowndes) has been canceled due to meager ratings.

The show has reportedly averaged 1.23 million viewers this season, being overshadowed by new hits The Vampire Diaries and Arrow.

"The CW has had five great seasons with America's favorite zip code, 90210," CW network president Mark Pedowitz announced in a statement. "I'd like to thank the talented cast, producers, and crew for all their hard work and dedication to the series. We are very proud of the West Beverly High alumni."

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Banah Sugar company says it will pay debts

Banah Sugar’s executive director, Yurek Vásquez, said the company will make payments to the more than 200 people and companies it owes money to, after the beginning of a reorganization process supervised by a federal court was revealed.

“This is a reorganization that gives us time to pay our providers,” Vásquez said. “Our intention is to continue working with them, fulfill our duty to them.”

Vásquez spoke to El Nuevo Herald for the first time after the sugar company filed for bankruptcy last week under Chapter 11, which allows continued operations while restructuring.

On Monday, several representatives of creditors expressed outrage at Banah’s non-compliance, accusing it of making payments with checks without funds.

Vásquez, who took over the leadership at Banah in November, said that the previous administration of the company faced “management problems.”

“One of these problems was a flawed communication between the previous administration and providers,” Vásquez said. “The fact that payments were pending did not mean that they were not going to get paid, but no one heeded the providers, nobody explained a payment plan to them so they would know when they were getting paid.”

Banah’s former executive director, Diego Leiva, told El Nuevo Herald he retired from the sugar company in October after learning the background of owner Alex Pérez, who served four years in prison for cocaine trafficking.

But Vásquez said Leiva did know about Pérez’s past and the real reason he left had to do with a mutual agreement after management problems were detected.

“I came to make an evaluation of the company and, after seeing the poor performance and deficiencies, I decided to make staff changes,” Vásquez said. “Leiva agreed with the changes, which included his resignation.”

The company operates with 15 employees. He said the size of the staff would depend on growth of production and new markets.

He said Banah is “now more efficient,” with a plant that can produce 24 million bottles of liquid sugar a year. Before, it imported liquid sugar at substantial cost.

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Friday is the deadline for homestead exemption applications

Friday is the deadline to apply for a homestead exemption or other property-tax break with the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.

Two new exemptions are on the books. One aims to cut the tax burden for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes more than 25 years. The other is for the spouses of police and fire-rescue workers who have died in the line of duty.

Homeowners can apply for homestead and other tax cuts at the Property Appraiser’s offices or by calling 305-375-4091 for forms.

Information and online filing for homestead exemption also is available at the Property Appraiser’s website at

A homestead exemption excludes $50,000 of the assessed value of a primary residence from taxation and caps the annual increase in a property’s assessed value at a maximum of 3 percent.

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ET at The Sunset Sessions: What do Fun The Black Keys and Jason Mraz Have in Common

When I'm driving home from work listening to the radio I sometimes wonder, How do these radio programmers know what new music is out there? I hear the constant streaming of Top 40 hits, but where are the underground singer-songwriters? Where can radio and music lovers find the new IT group or artist that is going to blow up? Well I found the answer and I have three words for you... the Sunset Sessions.

PICS: New Music Tuesday!

For over 16 years, the sessions have opened their doors to new and upcoming artists, and you won't believe the list of alumni: Grammy winners Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, The Zac Brown Band, The Black Keys, and Fun., just to name a few, and did I mention they are all Grammy winners?

Michele Clark, who founded the Sunset Sessions, wanted to create an event that would bring together music supervisors, radio programmers, music managers, all in one place to discover artists and bands no one else is playing.

This past weekend I got to spend some time in San Francisco with some of music's most talked about new artists and groups including the much buzzed about, AlphRev and Saints of Valory. When I arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel right in the center of downtown you could feel the energy of the musicians as you stepped into the many rooms and stages to watch the various artists. Though they were all music industry professionals there on business, at the end of the day they are all music lovers in search of new music.

The Parlotones, the multi-platinum selling Johannesburg-bred quartet, who has shared the stage with bands like Coldplay, say that the event has "a cool vibe, everyone's music lovers and meeting each other so it's just a cool vibe." Kansas born rock band, Gooding, who were at the sessions for the first time, said "one of the things that makes it very special is the quality of not only just talent, but the people ... there's just a lot of passion here."

The opportunity is very different than other music industry events as rock and roll songstress, Anna Rose, says "it's rare, you don't get to sit in front of people like this and play ... especially for an independent musician like myself." Country spitfire Emily Bell says that the music professionals "really accept all these up and coming artists with open arms."

The Sunset Sessions have also gathered artists all over the world to come and showcase their music including Sweden's Anna Bergendahl, who performed for the first time in the US during the sessions, Keith Harkin from Ireland, Chris Assaad from Canada, and they even went to the island of Hawaii to bring singer songwriter Anuhea to join the fun; throughout her career she has jammed with the likes of Bruno Mars and Ziggy Marley.

I wasn't sure what to expect but after a full weekend of new music, I was refreshed and cannot wait to see where this year takes all of these new and amazing artists.

To see what other up and coming artists like Faulkner, Savannah Philyaw, and Fernando Perdomo, had to say about the Sunset Sessions and their performances watch the video above and follow @sunsetsessions on Twitter or go to for more details on the next Sunset Sessions in Carlsbad, California.

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Knight Foundation holding IdeaJam Saturday

The Knight Foundation is hosting a free Knight News Challenge IdeaJam Saturday in conjunction with a nationwide contest it is running on open government that is seeking innovative ideas to improve the way citizens and governments interact ( through information and technology. Winners will get a share of $5 million and support to make their projects happen. The local IdeaJam will be at 3 p.m. at The LAB Miami, 400 Northwest 26th Street in Wynwood. It’s part of a full day of activities for The LAB’s grand opening from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., including a shark tank for entrepreneurs. To register for the IdeaJam and the grand opening events:

Nancy Dahlberg

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Broward commissioner withdraws pit bull ban proposal

Pit bull lovers came out in force on Tuesday to oppose a county commissioner’s effort to get the breed banned in Broward County.

After hearing dozens make emotional pleas, County Commissioner Barbara Sharief agreed to withdraw her proposal for a ban and work with experts to help keep neighborhoods safe from all dangerous dogs.

Read the full story at

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