July 22, 2002 The mother of Melea Pownell, the 3-year-old girl who died of a beating in May, was killed Sunday night by gunshots to the head.
Police found the body of Sylvia Byrd, 35, about 10:30 p.m. Sunday lying in front of her home in Altona. She had been shot several times in the head at close range, Deputy Police Chief Theodore Carty said Monday.
Byrd had money in her hand when police found her body, indicating that the death was not the result of a robbery, Carty said. Because of the type of gunshot wounds, police are investigating the possibility that Byrd may have been targeted for execution, he said.
Byrd was charged in May with 12 counts of child abuse and neglect after Melea was killed May 10. Byrd's former boyfriend, 25-year-old Derick Hoheb, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the little girl's death.
Hoheb has been in jail since his arrest in May in lieu of $500,000 bail, according to court records.
Homicide detectives are investigating the possibility that Byrd's murder could be in retaliation for Melea's death, Carty said. Another possibility is that Byrd may have been killed so she could not testify in Hoheb's trial, he added.
"It could be any number of things," Carty said.
Detectives were interviewing people Monday, but no arrests have been made in connection with Byrd's death. Police say Hoheb, who frequently baby-sat Melea and her 8-year-old sister, beat the toddler May 10 because she played with her food. Melea died at the hospital later that day.
Hoheb was charged with first-degree murder and nearly 20 counts of abuse and assault for what police say was a pattern of violence against the two girls.
He is charged with beating both girls, burning Melea with a hot cloth and slamming her older sister's face into the floor, according to court records.
Byrd was later charged with child abuse and neglect for leaving the girls in Hoheb's care even though she knew of the abuse, court records state. She was released on $35,000 bail in June while she awaited trial, records state.
The older girl was placed in foster care about a week before Melea's death. Social workers were investigating whether Melea should also be taken from her mother's home when the girl was killed, Ferryneisa Benjamin, deputy commissioner of Human Services, said at the time of Hoheb's arrest.
Byrd's death is the 23rd homicide in the Virgin Islands in 2002. Fifteen of those killings have been on St. Thomas. At this time a year ago, the homicide toll stood at 13 for the territory and seven for St. Thomas.
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