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Fatal Errors

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A Broward grand jury indicted Melendez the next day for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Like Peluso, Scheinberg overstated the case against Melendez. Melendez "confessed in great detail how he sold heroin to the victim and her friend," according to Scheinberg's memo describing the "factual scenario" of the case. Scheinberg asserted that Melendez "corroborated Christina Delarosa concerning the events leading up to the two sales of heroin to the girls."

In an interview with New Times, Peluso said only that he felt good that investigators were able to hold someone accountable in a drug-related death, something, he added, that does not happen often. He also defended Christina. "You've got to remember, she's my witness, and I'm not going to badmouth her."

Scheinberg, it seems, will have a difficult time convicting Melendez of first-degree murder. Christina Delarosa is his key witness -- and her testimony is full of contradictions and apparent lies. Among them:

In her first statement, she told police she knew nothing about Sherry using drugs that Sunday before her death but later admitted she and Sherry had done heroin.

Initially she said no one had used drugs at Derek's house, but she later acknowledged she smoked a joint by the pool.

In her first statement she said Sherry had told her she had bumped into a friend in Silver Oaks that Sunday evening. Christina theorized the person might have given Sherry "some drugs or something." In a later statement, Christina asserted the girls looked for that person Sunday but did not see him all weekend.

In one statement she said Melendez was alone when he provided the $5 heroin sample. In another she asserted he was with someone else, presumably Robles.

In her first statement, Christina said Sherry asked for a beer while at the older girl's house Sunday evening. Later Christina said it was her idea to take the beer.

She first told police that, when she woke up at 6 a.m. Monday and saw Sherry on the living room floor, she wiped some "snot" from Sherry's nose. In another statement she said there was nothing on Sherry's face that morning. (Even Peluso recognized this difference.)

And while Christina consistently maintained there was no cocaine use, the toxicology report indicates Sherry ingested that drug less than 12 hours before her death. None of the other witnesses mentioned anything about cocaine use, nor did they note the Xanax that coroners later found in Sherry's blood.

The case is set for a status conference July 13 with Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes. Ostrow has begun taking depositions from potential witnesses and has requested but not yet received a date for a bond hearing for Melendez.

Memories of Darlene Robinson's daughter are everywhere in her home: Photos of Sherry as a toddler with older brother Michael, of Sherry and her mom, of a smiling Sherry posing between Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh in Orlando a little more than a month before her death. Her last report card shows A's and B's and glowing comments from her teachers. "She's a delight!" wrote one.

Robinson remembers her last conversation with Sherry. "I called her [at Christina's] Sunday about seven. I always picked her up sometime around 8 or 9 on Sundays. She asked to stay longer. I got irritated because she had asked for more time there already, and she had had enough." Robinson pauses, then resumes. She told Sherry she wanted her to spend more time in North Lauderdale and less at Silver Oaks. "But I felt like she'd never gotten into trouble. She'd done very good at school; I'd always trusted her. I felt she deserved to do the fun things she wanted to do. I left it as a yes, but I was mad."

Robinson hung up but a few minutes later redialed Christina's home.

"I called her back because I didn't want to leave it like that. I called her back, and she was crying. She said she'd start spending more time at home. She told me she loved me. And that's the last time I talked to her." Only later, thinking back on those final words, did Robinson begin to wonder why her daughter was so upset. Perhaps, the mother has come to believe, it was because Sherry sensed events were getting out of control.

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Tom Lassiter

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