BROOKSVILLE — Authorities have identified a 39-year-old man with a lengthy criminal record as one of several "persons of interest" in the slaying of Sarah Davis, a matriarch of the historic south Brooksville neighborhood.
Hernando deputies initially arrested Byron Keith Burch on Saturday afternoon on two counts of burglary, hours after Davis was found dead in her home. Burch has remained in custody Tuesday, held in lieu of bonds totaling $55,000.
"We are continuing to follow up leads and information, and continue to process evidence gathered at the scene," said Sgt. Donna Black of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
According to the arrest report, deputies were searching for Burch in the area of Fort Dade Avenue and Ponce de Leon Boulevard around noon Saturday. The report does not specify why deputies were looking for Burch.
During the search, several people flagged down the deputies and said Burch had just broken into a home in the 700 block of W Fort Dade Avenue. Deputies said they later found Burch hiding under a pile of clothes in a bedroom closet.
Burch attempted to break away from the deputies, telling them that "he always runs from law enforcement and will continue to run," according to the arrest report.
Authorities arrested him and took him to the Hernando County Jail. His bail on the charge of burglary of a residence was raised to $50,000 based on his statements about running from law enforcement.
Burch also faces a single count of burglary of an unoccupied structure, which has a bail of $5,000.
A woman who answered the phone at his home at 16117 Sarasota St., on Tuesday afternoon quickly hung up when asked if she knew Burch. No one answered a follow-up call.
Over the years, Burch — who is blind in his left eye and nicknamed "One Eyed Jack," — has spent a lot of time shuffling between county jail and prison. He has a rap sheet that dates back to his teenage years. At 16, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the rape of a young girl in 1987.
Burch has also been charged with burglary, battery on a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine, forgery and theft. In 2005, he pleaded no contest to beating up an inmate while waiting in line to use the microwave in the Hernando County Jail.
Later that year, Burch was sentenced to 15 years in prison for mugging a homeless man for $20.
He was released from prison on Dec. 17.
In the past couple of days, residents in the tight-knit south Brooksville community have hinted at the possibility that the man responsible for Sarah Davis' death could have been a distant relative. It wasn't immediately clear if Burch was related to Davis.
Davis was found slain in her home on St. Francis Street early Saturday morning. Her family called deputies to the house after they got no response when they tried to reach her. She lived alone.
At 80, Davis was something of an icon in south Brooksville and taught most of its residents over the course of a 30-year education career at Moton School, which at one point was the only school that African-Americans could attend in Hernando County.
After she retired from the classroom, Davis was still a visible presence in the community. She volunteered at her church, Bethlehem Progressive Baptist; headed up the neighborhood's Crime Watch; and worked at one of the nearby sheriff's substations for 14 years.
"She touched so many people in the community," said the Rev. C.A. Hubbert, pastor of Davis' church. "She was old-school: She took care of herself, her community and everything around it."
Her funeral has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Faith Presbyterian Church at 200 Mount Fair in Brooksville. The burial will take place at Brooksville Cemetery.
At her well-manicured home on Tuesday morning, longtime neighbor and former student John Mobley was pushing a lawn mower around the yard. Inside, authorities were still scouring the home for clues and cleaning up the crime scene.
Mobley said family members and friends of Davis were still struggling to come to grips with the loss.
"The viciousness of the crime is unbelievable," Mobley said. "She spent her life devoted to this community, and everyone respected her for it. None of us can understand this."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jandersontimes.