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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


May 16, 2002 – A St. Thomas man was charged Thursday with the murder of 3-year-old Melea Pownell. Police say Derick Hoheb, 25, beat the child to death last Friday after she had been playing with her food.
And it became known Thursday that social workers had removed Melea's older sister from their Altona home earlier last week but left the smaller child there.
Melea, the daughter of Hoheb's girlfriend, Sylvia Bird, died after receiving multiple blows to her head and body, according to an autopsy report. The autopsy found that she had bruises, scars and burns on her body that would indicate a history of child abuse, according to court records.
Hoheb told investigators after the girl died Friday that he had been babysitting Melea because her mother was at work and Melea was sick. He said the child had the genetic blood disorder sickle cell anemia, according to an affidavit from Police Detective Roselyn Bedminster. He told police at the time that he had called an ambulance when Melea's condition seemed to worsen, Bedminster stated.
But after the autopsy determined that the 3-year-old had died from repeated blows, Hoheb told investigators that he had hit the girl in her face and body after she had been playing with her food, Bedminster stated in the court papers.
Police arrested Hoheb early Thursday morning and charged him with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. The murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Territorial Court Judge Brenda Hollar set bail Thursday at $500,000. Hoheb remained in custody. He is to return to court on May 23 to enter a plea.
Social workers removed Melea's 8-year-old sister from the home last week prior to the attack that led to the younger child's death, according to Ferrynecia Benjamin, assistant Human Services commissioner. At the time, the social workers decided that Melea did not need to be removed, Benjamin said Thursday afternoon.
She declined to go into details of why that decision was made, saying the case is under investigation. "This is very, very difficult," she said of Melea's death. "Even if one child is in danger, that's too many."
This is the second St. Thomas case this year in which a caregiver has been charged with beating a small child to death. In March, Vancito Farrington, 32, was charged with murder in connection with the December death of 2-year-old Rasheem Todman. Farrington remains in jail while awaiting trial in that case.

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