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.

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"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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Rikers jail ‘imposter’ who moved inmates between cells busted: sources

A Yonkers man who snuck onto Rikers Island by allegedly impersonating a Department of Correction employee — and even moved inmates between cells — was busted yesterday, sources said.

Matthew Matagrano, 36, was arrested at a Bronx courthouse last night when he showed up claiming to be a “correction investigator” and was recognized by correction officers, a DOC spokesman said.

The DOC didn’t notice until Thursday that Matagrano — who had access to Rikers for at least a week — had been entering the facility.

He raised the suspicions of Rikers guards when he moved inmates from one cell to another, but he wasn’t collared at that time, a law-enforcement source said.

Matthew Matagrano

The convicted sex offender last made headlines in 2004 when he used Department of Education ID to sneak into a Queens school and look through confidential student records.

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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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Weather alert: South Florida temperatures dropping to 40s this weekend

Get ready for another South Florida chill.

Temperatures are already on their way down and will reach the low to mid-40s in Miami-Dade by Sunday night. The wind chill will make it feel even colder — more like the upper 30s to lower 40s.

“It’s a strong cold front for this time of year,” said meteorologist Barry Baxter, who added that the average for this time of year is about 15 degrees warmer.

Until then, highs will be in the upper-60s to near 70 on Friday and Saturday, with lows in the upper-40s to lower 50s.

Friday and Saturday will be mostly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain during the day and a 10 percent chance at night.

As the cold front moves through South Florida, it will dry out the area, leaving clear skies on Sunday and into Monday.

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Adorable Tots: Celebs and their Cute Kids!

Justin Guarini

Justin Guarini shared his exciting baby news via Instagram. The American Idol alum, who was runner-up to Kelly Clarkson in the first season of the FOX show, posted a pic of his newborn, writing: "Asher, 7lbs 8oz of bliss." This is the second son for Guarini. Asher was born on Monday, Feb. 25.

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Michael Jordan hit with paternity suit for secret 16-year-old 'son'

"Taj" Reynolds and hoops star Michael Jordan.

"Taj" Reynolds and hoops star Michael Jordan.

Hoops legend Michael Jordan is being sued by a woman claiming he's the father of her teen son, according to new report.

Pamela Smith claims she became pregnant with Jordan's son after a 1995 tryst, TMZ reports.

Her son Grant Pierce Jay Jordan Reynolds — aka Taj — was born in June 1996, the site says.

In December, Taj posted a video claiming Jordan is his father.

'I have some exclusive, exclusive information I feel like everybody should know. If you've been hearing any rumors on Twitter, Instagram, MediaTakeout, any of's true," Taj proclaims.

I feel like ya'll should know and I feel like he should be more in my life about it, too."

Taj claims that Jordan knows "I'm his son. I've met him."

"I want him to be more in my life."

The teen's Reverbnation page —- as Taj Tareef — claims he is a hip-hop artist and likens his sound to Wiz Khalifa and Soulja Boy. The site's bio claims the Jamaican-born, Atlanta-raised teen "is nothing short of genius" and was "producing his own tracks as a tenth grader out of Westlake High School."

At the time of the alleged fling, the Bulls star was married to Juanita Vanoy.

Smith charges in the suit, filed on Feb. 6 in Fulton County, Ga, that she wants to retain full custody but also now wants child support as well as medical expenses for her son. Smith is also pushing to make Jordan Taj's legal last name.

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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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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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Flashback: Frankie Muniz's 'Agent Cody Banks' Interview in 2003

While his acting career has since been reduced to guest appearances on TV series and various independent films, Frankie Muniz was once one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood. We take you back to when he was at the height of the career.

On this day in 2003, Muniz was doing press for his action film Agent Cody Banks, in which he played the titular character, co-starring alongside Hilary Duff and Angie Harmon.

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The film was the third starring role for the then-17-year-old Muniz, who had risen to fame on the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle.

Among the many topics that he's asked about in the interview is the subject of dating, a usually enthusiastic topic for an adolescent, especially a famous one. However, Muniz reveals that he's not as smooth with the ladies as one might expect of an actor.

"I'm not good at talking to girls in the sense of me going up to a girl and starting a conversation," Muniz reveals," but if I get introduced to a girl or a girl comes up to me, I can carry conversation fine. ... I would never be able to go up to a girl and be like, 'Hey... What's up?' ... I'd be exactly like Cody (his character) was: I wouldn't know what to say."

RELATED: Frankie Muniz Reveals He Suffered a 'Mini Stroke'

Although one might assume that fame would guarantee a legion of girls for him to date, the teenage actor assesses his fame as more of a hindrance to facilitating relationships than a catalyst.

"The few times I have...introduced myself to someone, they're like, 'You're from "Malcolm in the Middle"!' and 'Oh, let me take a picture with you!' Then it's like, 'Well, that kind of ruined it,'" he divulges.

Nevertheless, Muniz, who is currently more involved in music as the drummer of indie rock band Kingsfoil than acting, maintains that recognition from strangers is generally rewarding--when he's not trying to court a girl, that is.

RELATED: Frankie Muniz: 'Gun Played No Part' in Argument with Girlfriend

"I get recognized a lot, but that's not tough to me," he replies when prompted on getting recognized. "It's kind of odd, but it's fun. It's a good feeling when someone comes up to you and [says]...'I like your show' or 'I can't wait to see your new movie.' That just makes me happy that people are actually watching and people enjoy what I do."

Muniz went on to star in Malcolm in the Middle for three more years and eventually starred in a Cody Banks sequel a year later.

As for the future of his love life, Muniz was married in 2011.

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