Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dad charged with 1st-degree murder in beating death of 3-month-old daughter (Pinellas Park, Florida)

Dad is identified as STEVEN DYKES.

Pinellas sheriff: Father killed baby daughter


Published: February 21, 2015 | Updated: February 21, 2015 at 08:23 PM

PINELLAS PARK — The late-night cries of a 3-month-old girl were met with a brutal beating at the hands of her father, resulting in the infant’s death at a Pinellas Park home, law enforcement officials say.

Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies charged Steven Dykes, 44, with first-degree murder Saturday after several days of investigation into the death of his daughter, Olivia, who was found dead early Thursday morning with multiple skull fractures, cuts and severe bruising.

“He slammed her to the point where it fractured her skull in several places,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a Saturday afternoon news conference.

The act of violence that Gualtieri called one of the most heinous he had seen against a young child comes less than seven weeks after police accused a Tampa man of tossing his 5-year-old daughter off the Dick Misener Bridge along the approach to the Sunshine Skyway.

Unlike that case involving John Jonchuck, though, Dykes has no history of mental illness; nor were there indications he might be abusive, the sheriff said.

Olivia’s mother, Melissa Schroll, 33, apparently had asked Dykes to feed and comfort the infant around midnight Thursday after the baby woke up fussy in the room the couple shared with her and their 21-month-old son, Bryce, at a home on 71st Street North.

When Olivia awoke again, Dykes took her out of the bedroom into the living room.

The next morning, Schroll had stepped outside the house when Dykes came bursting out holding the infant, shouting, “She’s dead,” Gualtieri said.

The couple called 911 and EMS rescuers attempted CPR on the girl, who had visible injuries and appeared lifeless.

Olivia was pronounced dead after being transported to St. Petersburg General Hospital.

Although Dykes told investigators he had harmed the girl, he denied beating her and offered statements about the previous night that contradicted Schroll’s account, authorities reported.

Rather than immediately name Dykes a suspect, deputies monitored him as he stayed the night Thursday at the Pinellas Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Clearwater and Friday at a St. Petersburg motel.

While ordering a prescription for Xanax pills Saturday, Dykes reportedly told someone he was “sorry for what he did” and blamed the child’s death on the drugs, according to a conversation recorded by deputies.

Deputies arrested Dykes Saturday afternoon outside the Pinellas Park home where the couple had been renting a room.

A medical examiner found Olivia had skull fractures and a brain hemorrhage. Bruises on her legs and feet indicate she was grabbed by the legs and slammed into something, Gualtieri said.

“He probably got very frustrated and slammed this kid, really slammed her,” the sheriff said.

Schroll and another man who owns the home and was sleeping in a different bedroom said they heard nothing that night.

Schroll was cooperative with investigators and isn’t suspected of any wrongdoing.

Schroll and Dykes’ son, Bryce, has been placed in the custody of his grandparents in Tarpon Springs.

Dykes has a criminal history, including drug charges, though never any abuse charges nor complaints that would have led investigators to anticipate what happened. Gualtieri said.

“They were not on anybody’s radar,” he said.

Both Schroll and Dykes were unemployed and apparently under significant financial strain, Gualtieri said.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families will conduct a review of the child’s death, which is standard policy, but the agency had no prior contact with Dykes, according to a statement released by the agency Saturday evening.