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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Justin Bieber Tweets Worst Birthday

It's Justin Bieber's party and he'll cry if he wants to! The newly 19-year-old heartthrob took to Twitter Friday night to express his disappointment after his birthday plans were reportedly shut down.

Earlier in the night, the excited Girlfriend singer tweeted "big night ahead" and "gonna be a fun night," but mere hours later he was singing a different tune, writing: "Worst birthday." The tweet has been shared 132,565, and has led to #BeliebersHatePaparazzi to start trending. But the photographers may not be to blame this time.

RELATED: Bieber's Mom Isn't Crazy About His Tattoos Either

A source for E! says that Bieber's circus-themed bash at London's Cirque du Soir was cut short after the pop singer's entourage got into an altercation with the club's security.

Bieber reportedly headed straight back to his hotel after the alleged confrontation.

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Thugs posed as cops to rob Brooklyn home: police

Two dapper thugs posed as cops to rob a Brooklyn home, police said.

The duo forced their way into a Bedford-Stuyvesant residence near Atlantic Avenue and Herkimer Street about 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16, snatching a laptop and cash.

One suspect is about 6 feet tall, and wore a suit and glasses. His accomplice, who dangled a fake shield around his neck, also wore a suit.

Anyone with information about the robbery should call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.

Tipsters can also log onto the Crime Stoppers website at, or text 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577.

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Michelle Singletary: College scorecard didn’t pass our tests

With my 17-year-old daughter headed to college, I tried out the new college scorecard tool launched by the Obama administration following the president’s State of the Union address.

I was not impressed. Some links didn’t work and certain information I wanted wasn’t there. Overall, the tool just didn’t add much value to help our family figure out which college would be the most affordable.

The tool, which you can find at, is too general when it comes to the final price of college, what the academic industry calls the “net price.”

“Net price is what undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships (financial aid you don’t have to pay back) are subtracted from the institution’s cost of attendance,” the scorecard tells us.

Designed by the Department of Education, the scorecard includes the average net price data for in-state students, the school’s graduation rate, loan default rates, and median borrowing. Oh, and the data used for the average net price are for the 2010-11 academic year.

Honestly, given what I’ve been experiencing and after talking to numerous other parents, the college scorecard doesn’t address our most pressing needs. What would help more would be an intensive effort by the administration to bring down the cost of college so families wouldn’t have to borrow so heavily.

During a recent college tour, we saw one parent become very disheartened because her daughter, a good but not great student, wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of college — and she was a state resident visiting a state school. If a degree is a ticket to a middle-class job, then we’ve got to do something about bringing down the price of attending. Even with a lot of merit and need-based scholarship and grant money available, there isn’t nearly enough to go around.

My daughter Olivia, who has excellent grades, applied to four colleges — two in-state schools and two out of state. She was accepted at North Carolina A&T, Towson University and the Honors College at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill turned her down. The UNC rejection notice was nice enough, a more “it’s not you, it’s us” rebuff. “With many more candidates than spaces, we cannot avoid making thousands of difficult decisions,” the vice provost wrote.

My heart sunk when Olivia didn’t get into UNC. But the penny-pincher in me was jumping for joy. We’ve saved for her education, but not enough to pay the $43,848 annual out-of-state price for UNC.

Across the country, families are now waiting for their letters that lay out how much money their kids might get to finance their educations. And when I say money, I don’t mean loans. We are waiting to see if our kid gets a grant, scholarship or work study from the colleges. If that money isn’t offered, many families will opt for loans. We won’t borrow. We hope if our daughter gets aid, we can use what we’ve saved to help her finance an advanced degree, which is increasingly required for many fields.

Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education, said the college scorecard is meant to be part of a suite of tools that families can use to help in the college selection process. You can find the tools by going to the National Center for Education Statistics’ website ( and searching for College Navigator.

A useful tool I’m looking forward to is one the administration previously announced, a financial aid shopping sheet. The administration has gotten more than 600 colleges to agree to provide important financial information to incoming freshmen starting with the 2013-14 school year. As part of their financial aid packages, the schools said they would disclose these key pieces of information: They will be clearer about how much one year of college will cost; they will provide a better distinction between grants, scholarships and loans; they will provide estimated monthly payments for the federal student loans that graduates will likely owe; and they will supply information about the percentages of students who enroll from one year to the next, graduate and repay their loans without defaulting.

The shopping sheet is a tool the administration should demand that colleges provide. Right now it’s only voluntary.

As hard as she tried, Olivia also didn’t make the cut for some very lucrative scholarships she applied for. Those letters said much the same as UNC’s rejection letter — that the competition is just too great.

Now we wait, like so many others, hoping we get some money from the schools that do want our daughter.

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Florida man vanishes after being sucked into sinkhole under his bedroom

A sheriff's deputy plucked a man from an expanding sinkhole, but neither was able to save the man's brother from being sucked into the rubble, authorities said.

Early Friday, authorities said the site at 240 Faithway Drive had become too unstable to continue rescue efforts and the focus would instead shift to a recovery operation.

The sinkhole opened late Thursday in the home's backyard, swallowing one of the home's four bedrooms.

Someone called 911, and a deputy reportedly found Jeremy Bush trying to pull his brother, Jeffrey, out of the hole when he arrived.

The deputy pulled Jeremy from the growing hole.

But Jeffrey Bush, 36, disappeared into the rubble.

Janell Wheeler was inside the house with four other adults, a child and two dogs when the sinkhole opened. She sat huddled in a lawn chair Friday morning, covered in a green quilt.

"It sounded like a car hit my house," she said.

It was dark. She remembers screams and Jeremy rushing to rescue his brother.

The rest of the family went to a hotel late Thursday, when the house was condemned and neighbors evacuated. But she stayed behind with her dog Baby Girl, sleeping in her Ford Focus.

"I just want my nephew," she said through tears.

Family members returned to the home around 7:30 a.m. Jeremy Bush leaned on a patrol car and cried, his chin shaking as his eyes filled with tears.

He said he just gone to bed when he heard a loud noise and cries for help from his brother's room.

Jeremy opened the door and found the dresser and bed had disappeared into a hole. He jumped in and began to dig. But he heard nothing more from his brother before the deputy pulled him from the rubble.

"I couldn't do anything," Jeremy said Friday, in front of the house where his brother was still buried. "Everything in the room was gone.

"I just wanted to get my brother back," he said. "That's all I wanted."

Wheeler paced the sidewalk nearby and hugged relatives. "It's a dream, right?" she said.

She still wore her blue plaid pajamas.

The rest of the neighborhood area bustled Friday morning with rescuers and neighbors and TV trucks straining to catch a glimpse of the sinkhole, apparently entirely contained within the one-story, four-bedroom home, which records show was built in 1974.

Rescue crews lowered listening devices and cameras into the hole, but found no signs of life, a Fire Rescue spokeswoman said — only more signs of collapse.

Heavy equipment was standing by for a recovery operation and ground-penetrating radar was brought in early Friday to help gauge the extent of the hole, which Fire Rescue says had grown to be about 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide.

Although it has proven somewhat common for sinkholes to open in Central Florida and swallow cars and houses, it is not at all common for people to become trapped in them.

In March 2011, a woman taking pictures in her Plant City back yard plunged into a hole when it opened beneath her.

But she clung on to her cellphone and was able to call for help. Only her fingertips peeked from the ground when an officer arrived, but he was able to pull her to safety.

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Jennifer Lawrence Silver Linings Playbook Costumes Bidding Frenzy

The whole world's in love with Jennifer Lawrence right now, and that's great news for the Nate D. Sanders Auctions, who recently auctioned off four pieces of her Silver Linings Playbook wardrobe.

The items for sale included the black wool coat Jennifer wears in the film (a Moda International coat in a size 6), and more intimate items like the stretchy white pants she sports during the dance sequence, a black Express tank top in a size small and lastly, a blue long-sleeved t-shirt by Threads 4 Thought in an XS, paired with a Gap Body Racerback Sports bra in a 36C.

Pics: Sexy & Sultry -- Jennifer Lawrence is Miss Dior

The items ended up raising a whopping $12,000, but a more concrete estimate of her startling popularity?

Even the simple black tank brought in $600, though it retails for around $20.

Video: In Depth -- Jennifer's Road to Oscar

"The whole world seems to be captivated by Jennifer Lawrence," said Nate D. Sanders in a statement. "We estimated that each of her wardrobe pieces would bring between $500-1,500, but what happened is that dozens of bidders from all over the world furiously bid against each other."

Guess there's no price too small to pay for a piece of Hollywood's current golden girl!

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Mayor Bloomberg says to lose weight you have to eat less

Meet Mayor Bloomberg, diet guru.

Only you're probably not going to like his advice for losing weight -- just eat less.

"If you eat less than 2,000 calories you'll lose weight," the mayor said on his weekly WOR radio show today. "If you eat more than 2,000 calories, you'll gain weight. Now some things metabolize more quickly than others. And everyone says I should go on this kind of diet or that kind of diet. Don't eat and you'll lose weight."

Exercise, by Bloomberg's reckoning, is not a substitute for reducing intake.

"You have to run for half an hour for one muffin. So it' i not exercise, it's overeating. Exercise contributes," he said.

The mayor got to dispensing nutrition advice during of a discussion of the city's plan to restrict the size of sugary sodas to 16 ounces in restaurants starting March 12.

Bloomberg described the new policy as educational, not punitive.

He even recommended that store owners not hike prices of giant sodas.

New Yorkers who want to consume 32 or 64 ounces at a sitting at their favorite fast food joint "just have to carry two cups back or four cups back rather than one. And that reminds you," said the mayor.

"So it's an educational thing. It doesn't prevent you from doing it, and it doesn't mean a store has to charge you more. I mean, it's ridiculous to say it's the cost of an extra cup. If the cost of an extra cup is really a detriment if they're going to be in business, they're not going to be in business."

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Would-be convention center developers make pitches to Miami Beach residents

Developers on Wednesday presented Miami Beach residents with competing ideas for what the city’s Convention Center could look like after an overhaul.

It was the public’s first glimpse of what could become of the 52-acre site. Two heavy-hitting teams are competing for the project, which could cost up to $1 billion.

Both teams – Portman-CMC and South Beach ACE – stressed that the concepts presented Wednesday were only preliminary ideas.

Both teams’ proposals focus on creating lush greenscapes and ways to connect the enormous convention center with abutting neighborhoods – things that residents at a prior public meeting asked of the developers.

To do that, Portman-CMC, the team led by Portman Holdings, proposed several scenarios. In one, a diagonal plaza would grace the corner of the current convention center property, creating a string of parks to connect the center to the existing Miami Beach Botanical Garden and SoundScape Park.

The design focused on creating shade through both the buildings and landscaping, which is basically nonexistent now.

“This place is a black hole in terms of green, in terms of trees. We aim to change that," said Jamie Maslyn Larson, a Partner of West 8, the company partnering with Portman to landscape the project.

West 8 also worked on Miami Beach’s SoundScape Park, which features free outdoor movies and audio and video feeds of performances at the adjoining New World Symphony.

South Beach ACE, the team led by Tishman Hotel and Realty, proposed an underground parking area to hide idling trucks and buses – an issue that residents have complained about. Above the parking lot would be a rolling greenspace, and views of the now-ignored Collins Canal would be incorporated.

World-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, part of the South Beach ACE team, called the current convention center a "serious problem" in the middle of the "idyllic" Miami Beach. His team’s design aims to correct that.

Tishman’s proposal also preserves the current Jackie Gleason Theater. Residents have debated whether the theater, which is not deemed historic, deserves to be preserved. The Tishman proposal would essentially remove a back wall of the theater to create a two-stage amphitheater.

Portman-CMC has not made a decision about whether the theater itself would stay, but spoke to preserving the legacy of Gleason himself. The team launched a website to get more resident feedback about its proposal:

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Miami-Dade mayor says partnerships, technology will move county forward

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez will deliver his annual speech to the county Thursday, laying out his goals for revving up the local economy, promoting regional cooperation and improving a public transportation system that is, at best, inadequate.

In a wide-ranging interview previewing his state-of-the-county speech, Gimenez told The Miami Herald that he is optimistic about the county’s future, citing improved economic indicators and a record year for business at Miami International Airport and PortMiami, two major economic engines.

“I think we’re a hot commodity, and people are starting to see our potential,” he said. “We just need to keep our eye on the ball.”

Unlike his first speech a year ago, the political pressure is off this time for Gimenez, who in August was elected to his first full term in office. His first year amounted to a red-shirt season, completing the term of former Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was ousted in a 2011 recall.

In Thursday’s speech, to be delivered at Liberty City’s Joseph Caleb Center, Gimenez will announce the creation of an advisory group to study rising property-insurance rates and make recommendations about how to lobby state lawmakers on the issue. The Florida Legislature regulates Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort, which recently increased homeowners’ insurance rates and scaled back coverage.

“We’re going to look at why our people here are getting slammed,” Gimenez said.

A similar task force made recommendations last month to improve the county elections process. The county, however, generally has more control over elections than over property insurance.

The mayor will also promote an initiative — begun with Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and already underway — to prevent youth violence. And he will tout a new partnership announced Wednesday in which the county will take part in technology giant IBM’s Smart cities program, which lets local governments test and use software to better analyze municipal data.

Among his successes in office, Gimenez will mention streamlining permitting at some county agencies — in some cases by three months, he said — posting employee salaries online and providing internships in his office to college students.

Looking to spur entrepreneurship and create local jobs, Gimenez’s administration also has committed $1 million in funding over four years to Launch Pad, in conjunction with the University of Miami. Launch Pad is a public/private partnership that introduces young technology businesses to each other to help them grow.

In his speech, the mayor will also throw his support behind Endeavor, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate entrepreneurship in metropolitan areas. The organization plans to set up shop in Miami after receiving a $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Taking the long view, Gimenez said he hopes to make it easier for commuters to take public transportation between Miami Beach and the mainland and from Kendall to the urban core. The mayor said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet — or money to finance them — but said that clogged streets are getting in the way of residents’ productivity.

By way of example, Gimenez said he left County Hall in downtown Miami at 5 p.m. on a recent afternoon for a 6:30 p.m. event at the Hammocks, in West Kendall.

“I didn’t make it,” he said. “I can’t imagine your having to do that every day. We’re wasting time. We’re spending money. We’re spending gas.”

For those and other big-ticket improvements, including looming, extensive water-and-sewer piping that will have to be replaced soon because it is so antiquated, Gimenez said Miami-Dade won’t be able to count on much state or federal financial aid. Instead, there will be some water-rate hikes in coming years, he said, and future transportation projects might be partnerships involving heavy private-sector investments.

“More and more, it’s likely that we’re going to have to do these things ourselves,” he said.

Better than going at it alone, Gimenez said, would be teaming up with counties with similar issues to share ideas and work together for funding and state support. To that end, Gimenez had dinner last year in St. Petersburg with the mayors of Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. He also has hosted the mayors of Broward and Palm Beach counties to brainstorm ways to work together.

“People have been very good and very successful at dividing us, and we’ve done that to ourselves,” Gimenez said. “We should have a lot more in common than we have differences.”

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Stars Without Makeup!

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson looks undeniably gorgeous in this makeup-free Twitter pic she just shared with fans. "Getting into character. I need some eyebrows though!," she joked.

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