Girl's murder termed a 'horribly-gone-wrong case of discipline'

J Swygart, The Lima News, Ohio
·2 min read

Apr. 20—LIMA — Testimony from a Lima police officer, coupled with attorney comments offered in Lima Municipal Court on Tuesday, appeared to leave little doubt that Romiere Hale was responsible for the death last week of his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter.

Lima Police Department Detective Sean Neidemire testified during a preliminary hearing for Hale that the 21-year-old Lima man admitted to police that he struck My'Laya Dewitt in the abdomen about a week before she was found unresponsive inside a North Elizabeth Street residence and died a short time later at a Lima hospital.

Hale subsequently was arrested and charged with murder, a first-degree felony.

Even Hale's own attorney seemed to concede his client played a role in the girl's death.

"This is a horribly-gone-wrong case of discipline that should have been handled in a different way," attorney Kenneth Rexford said.

Protesters who said they were family members of the infant stood outside the municipal court building Tuesday holding signs that read "Justice for Malaya" and "Stop Child Abuse."

A shrine to Ma'laya has been erected at the North Elizabeth Street home where the young girl lived. Balloons and toys adorn the entrance of the residence.

Also jailed on a felony charge of child endangerment is Stayce Riley, 23, of Lima, the infant's mother. She is scheduled to appear in municipal court Thursday for her preliminary hearing. Neidemire described Hale as the live-in boyfriend of the girl's mother and said the two adults were the sole caregivers for the 4-year-old.

Officers from the Lima Police Department were dispatched shortly after 2 p.m. on April 12 to a residence at 535 N. Elizabeth St. in reference to a report of an unresponsive child. Upon their arrival, officers located the 4-year-old inside the residence. The child was transported to a local hospital, where medical personnel attempted life-saving measures but were unable to revive her.

Initial reports from the Lucas County Coroner's Office, where an autopsy of the young girl was conducted, indicated Dewitt died of "severe abdominal injuries ... that were about a week old," Neidemire testified on Tuesday.

That coincides with statements allegedly made to investigators by Hale that he had disciplined Ma'Laya by hitting her in the stomach around April 3, the detective said. He noted that Riley told investigators that her daughter "was not feeling well" in the week before she was found unresponsive.

At the conclusion of Hale's preliminary hearing, Magistrate Richard Warren found probable cause existed to send the case to the Allen County Common Pleas Court for consideration by an upcoming session of the grand jury. Hale's bond of $1 million was continued.