By ROCHELLE E.B. GILKEN
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Brandon Cole was asleep in a baby blue Onesie when his great-uncle walked in and stood over his crib with a butcher knife.
Eric Sawyer, 38, said he had mulled killing the 1-year-old for four days.
On Tuesday, just after 8 p.m., he killed Brandon and then confessed in calculating detail, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
Sawyer slashed the boy's abdomen and watched Brandon struggle to breathe for the next four or five minutes, waiting for him to die, according to the arrest report.
The man picked up the still-breathing boy, wrapped him in a sheet and left him on the washing machine in the laundry room, the report stated. His 20-year-old niece found the body and called 911.
The discovery was devastating.
Four adult relatives who were home at the time started screaming in the street, initially assuming that the baby had been attacked by Sawyer's loyal Rhodesian Ridgeback, the sheriff's office said.
But soon they directed their anger at the great-uncle, who court records say is bipolar.
He had no answers to their pleas. He had been despondent all week, and his past aggression led his mother to get a court order banning him from the house at 5804 Orchard Way, according to court records.
Deputies arrived there Tuesday to find Sawyer sitting on the living room couch, shirtless, with blood on his hands.
"I did it," he told them, according to the arrest report. "It's not a dog; it's a human."
Sawyer initially said he thought the baby was possessed, but later explained that he wanted to spare Brandon from growing up in an environment of family squabbles and financial problems, according to the arrest report.
He was "calm and deliberate" in his confession and said he understood that the consequences of his actions could include the death penalty, sheriff's Lt. Michael Reardon said.
At the scene, a deputy put Sawyer in the back of a patrol car for his protection while his frantic family shouted expletives and wailed.
Brandon's mother, 22-year-old JaLynn Davis, who arrived home within minutes of the stabbing, begged to see her baby and kiss him goodbye.
Reardon had to tell her no in order to preserve the evidence.
Sawyer was charged with first-degree murder. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paul Moyle ordered him held without bail Wednesday morning at his first appearance in court.
Family members were not in the courtroom and had notified the prosecutor that they did not want contact with him, which the judge ruled Sawyer to obey.
Sawyer's family had struggled with his behavioral issues, though he was arrested only once in Florida.
His mother got an order for protection against domestic violence against him April 3, 2006, banning him from their home in suburban West Palm Beach.
Judith Sawyer, now 58,wrote in her petition that her son was "loud, saying hurtful terrible things (ranting) to my 91-year-old father. ... Eric pushed me against the wall where I hit my head and hurt my left foot. He has become demanding, taking things from me, hiding telephones and on Sunday, threatened to kill me."
The day after Eric Sawyer was served with the injunction, he was arrested after showing up at the house, talking incoherently and refusing to leave.
After he underwent court-ordered mental health counseling at Oakwood Center of the Palm Beaches, his mother returned to the judge two months later, asking for nonviolent contact with Sawyer.
The judge agreed, and in October 2006, the entire protection order expired.
Until Sawyer was arrested, Judith Sawyer allowed her son to live there with Brandon, the child's mother and several other relatives.
He had not worked since February, when he left a job at Publix. He also had worked for a moving company, Reardon said.
He was close to his dog. But his family said his behavior had changed in the past few days.
"He was pacing around the house, not communicating," Reardon said.
Judith Sawyer had no explanation for what happened and was inconsolable, Reardon said.
"She shouted in the street 15 times, asking me, 'Why?' " the lieutenant said.
Relatives have declined to talk to reporters.
Brandon's father, Louie Cole, 27, is in jail in Lake County, where he was arrested in January and charged with violating parole on a felony drug conviction.
Reardon said Brandon appeared to be a healthy boy, living in a decent Spanish-style single-family home. Neighbors said that despite occasional shouting matches inside the house, relatives often sat on the porch with the boy or played with him outside.
"He was a happy baby. I saw him out on the swing. They all sit on the porch, hanging out," said neighbor David Falkinburg, 44, one of the 911 callers.
Falkinburg said he saw Sawyer walking his dog several times. They made small talk about the neighborhood and Falkinburg's broken foot.
"You talk to him a little bit, he seems fine. You talk to him a little more, you realize he's not all there," he said.
But Falkinburg said the look on Sawyer's face Tuesday night was different.
"I've never seen women go crazy like that. They were yelling, being hurt and everything," Falkinburg said. "He (Sawyer) looked like he was in a lost state."