Walter Pacheco, April Hunt and Sarah Lundy
Sentinel Staff Writers
October 4, 2007
Orange County deputies this morning arrested the mother of the 8-year-old boy who they say was beaten and choked to death last week by his older brother.
Deputies booked Tangela Key, 34, into the Orange County Jail this afternoon on $2,500 bond. She faces a charge of aggravated child neglect in the Saturday night beating of her son Levares Key.
Demetrius Key, 13, is accused of fatally punching and beating his brother with a metal broom handle at their Texas Avenue apartment after Levares ate a dessert he wasn't supposed to and picked at a scab until it started to bleed.
"She knowingly left Levares in a circumstance that could result in his death," Sgt. John Allen of the Orange County Sheriff's Office said at a news conference this morning. "She knew that Demetrius had a propensity to harm Levares."
The sheriff's arrest report shows that Key had previously "seen marks on Levares when left in Demetrius' care," and that she warned her son in the past "he could get in trouble for that."
Investigators added that Key also subjected Levares to "disciplinary sessions."
"Demetrius would hold Levares' legs while her other children held his arms. They would hold him off the ground while she beat him," Allen said.
Orange-Osceola Public Defender Bob Wesley announced today that he will be representing Demetrius.
"This will be another tragic incident of violence begets violence," Wesley said.
He and chief assistant public defender Eileen Forrester met with the teenager Wednesday night. "I can't put violence together with the child I met. This is a 90-pound soft spoken humble quiet child."
Key has at least seven children, according to court records.
Court officials said the 13-year-old, who is in an Osceola County detention center, is due in juvenile court Friday at 1:30 p.m. The hearing is likely to be a short discussion about maintaining him at the center for now.
The State Attorney's Office has 21 days to decide how to officially charge Demetrius. If prosecutors elect to charge him as an adult with first-degree murder, they will present the case to an Orange County grand jury.
"Brothers do fight, but rarely do one of them end up dying," Allen said. "This is a very unusual case."
Investigators said they were dealing with conflicting accounts of the murder.
Key initially told deputies that Demetrius found Levares lying on his back in the bedroom while she was reading her Bible, the arrest affidavit read. She said she then ran to the balcony screaming for help.
However, follow-up interviews with Key, her son Demetrius and other witnesses revealed a different story.
Key left the 13-year-old in charge of his siblings Saturday and headed to a cousin's apartment on the other side of the Beach Club apartments in the Holden Heights neighborhood.
During that time, Demetrius said Levares ate a dessert he was forbidden from eating and that he picked at a scab until it began bleeding, deputies said.
"Demetrius feared Levares would blame both circumstances on him and tell his mother," the arrest report shows. The boy then claimed "he listened to the voice that told him to go hit his brother."
Demetrius then pulled the back of Levares' shirt, knocking him to the ground. Once Levares was on the floor, Demetrius "punched, choked and repeatedly beat his brother's head on the floor until he was unconscious."
A neighbor who called 911 told the Orlando Sentinel that she heard a loud banging inside the second-floor apartment Saturday afternoon and then saw someone bring the young boy out onto the balcony. He was making a gurgling noise and his eyes were rolling back in his head, she said.
Levares died several hours later at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. An autopsy showed that in addition to his recent wounds, Levares had other injuries in various stages of healing.
Investigators were looking for people who knew the family and could answer questions about Levares' short life. They know he lived with his mother and siblings during the past few months. But eight years ago, within a month of his birth, Key gave him up to a woman whom she described as a godmother, Allen said.
Key and the woman, Brenda Blackmon, had met four months earlier, he said.
Blackmon raised Levares until earlier this summer, when Key decided that she wanted him back. It is unclear which woman had legal custody.
"The investigation into this child's life -- where he lived and under what circumstances he was living with these people. We are still looking into that," Allen said.
"The child had suffered multiple injuries, and at this point we are looking into how these other injuries occurred," Allen said. "It appears this child has been beaten over a long period of time."
The Department of Children and Families, Florida's child-protection agency, disclosed that it had investigated Key in the past. Information was unavailable, but DCF Regional Director John Cooper said that Levares was not in the home at the time of the investigation.
"I can confirm his siblings are in protective custody now and have been in custody in the past," Cooper said. "The 8-year-old was never in our cases in the past."
About five years ago, the mother appeared in Orange County Court in connection with Demetrius and his older sister. They had too many unexcused school absences in 2001, according to court records.
Key initially told school officials that she didn't know her children had missed so many days while enrolled at Rolling Hills Elementary School and Palmetto Elementary School, according to court records.
Demetrius' older sister had missed 400 days -- equivalent of two years of school -- between kindergarten and fourth grade, records show.
In November 2002, Key pleaded no contest to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She was put on probation for nearly a year and was supposed to attend a parenting class, court records show.
The next year, she violated probation when she failed to complete the class. When the case was resolved in 2004, she was living with her seven children at the Vacation Lodge motel on South Orange Blossom Trail, according to court records.
Few other details about the family are available. Family members reached by phone would not comment. Few Beach Club apartment neighbors said they knew the Keyses, who they said had not lived in the apartment long.