LARGO — Police arrested a couple Monday on charges that they beat to death a malnourished 4-year-old girl in their care.
Sylvester David Carew, 54, and Nikki Tyler Gardner-Bradley, 38, were arrested on first-degree murder warrants in Hillsborough County.
Police say they killed Carew's nearly 5-year-old granddaughter, Zineah Taylor Johnson, by beating her repeatedly in Largo this summer.
On Aug. 16, the pair, who are boyfriend and girlfriend, brought the girl to Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg. They said she was vomiting and had trouble breathing on the drive.
But doctors in the emergency room thought otherwise. Not only was Zineah dead when she arrived, she appeared malnourished and had obvious signs of abuse, including marks around the head and eyes.
Police began investigating. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by "systematic blunt trauma" and listed malnutrition as a contributing factor.
The girl's body had patterns of marks, suggesting more than one instrument was used to beat her repeatedly, police said.
"One blow didn't cause her death," said Largo police Detective Lara Young. "It wasn't necessary to prove who actually swung the implements that struck her. The cause of death was over time while she was in both of their care."
Police obtained arrest warrants on Nov. 19, but the couple had moved out of their Largo apartment, where police believe the abuse occurred. Police called on the U.S. marshals Florida regional fugitive task force to find them in Hillsborough County. They were arrested Monday in the Tampa area.
Young said Zineah's mother left the child in her grandfather's care, believing the girl would be better off with the couple until the mother became financially stable.
Carew and Gardner-Bradley were on disability and did not work, Young said. They blamed the abuse on each other but did not acknowledge the frequency or severity that police suspect.
"They both are just so adamant that it was the other, I don't think we're getting the real story," Young said.
The girl's mother is not believed to have any other children. Young said the woman, identified in her daughter's obituary as Sylvia A. Carew, was devastated by the loss and told police that Sylvester Carew was a good father to her.
Gardner-Bradley has no record of violent crime in Florida. Carew's criminal history in Florida shows one charge of firing a weapon into an occupied building in 1989.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.