Mother in decades-old infant death case pleads guilty in Dare courtroom

Mother in decades-old infant death case pleads guilty in Dare courtroom

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A former Kitty Hawk resident arrested in 2021 for the suffocation death of her newborn son 30 years earlier has agreed to a plea deal that will send her to prison for up to six years.

Robin Lynn Byrum, 53, appearing on June 5 during an administrative session of Dare County Superior Court, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for the death of the infant, whose partial remains, wrapped in a sheet, were found on April 4, 1991, near trash cans along East Tides Drive in South Nags Head. The infant was found with a pink plastic hair curler in his mouth and a broken jaw.

With the baby’s death unsolved for decades, the arrest of his birth mother in October 2021 after the infant’s DNA was traced to her generated major local and national headlines. It was a mystery solved by a match with genealogical records of the infant’s paternal grandparents found online, pieced together with the criminal record of the infant’s biological father, Scott Gordon Poole.

Both Byrum and Poole appeared in court in Dare County on June 5, finally bringing resolution to the tragic saga. Wearing an orange Dare County Detention Center jumpsuit, her brownish-blonde hair worn in a ponytail, Byrum maintained a polite and composed demeanor in answering the routine questions from Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett. Under the plea deal, the judge told her, District Attorney Jeff Cruden agreed to drop previous charges, including murder.

“Do you understand every element of this offense to which you now plea?” the judge asked her.

“Yes, sir,” she responded.

In providing details of the case to the court, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bland said that Byrum initially denied to investigators that she had ever been pregnant and said she suffered from endometriosis and Graves disease. But when confronted with evidence, Bland said, Byrum “started crying” and said that she never knew that she was pregnant until she was in the bathroom and in labor. Byrum also said the infant was stillborn, Bland told the court, and that she had used the curler to “get it to breathe.”

Bland said at the June 5 court proceeding that Byrum told investigators that after giving birth outside in her car and failing to revive the infant, she went inside and kept the baby with her for “several days, and when it started to smell, she took it to the beach.”

Another account Byrum provided to investigators was that she had then gone to the ocean “and wanted to die,” and drove around in her car and eventually put the body in the trash, Bland told the Voice in an interview.

At the time of the infant’s death, Byrum was living at her parents’ house on Tarkle Ridge Drive in Kitty Hawk, Bland said.

According to court records, an autopsy conducted shortly after the child’s death at the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s office in Greenville by forensic pathologist Mary Gilliland determined the infant’s cause of death to be “asphyxia by airway obstruction (curler) and blunt force injuries of the face.”

Gilliland also reported that the infant was missing its lower torso, likely from the result of animal activity, but it appeared to be full term and to be alive when the curler was inserted.

The death was ruled a homicide by the coroner, but until recently, law enforcement was unable to find any further information about the incident or the parents.

Speaking to Judge Tillett, Public Defender Thomas Routten said in court on June 5 that while his client accepted the plea arrangement, Byrum maintains that she had intended to resuscitate the infant with the curler.

In the Voice interview, Bland explained that the coroner believes the broken jaw was caused by forcing the curler into the mouth.

Nags Head police over the years kept re-examining the evidence, according to a 2021 department press release, and reopened the case in July 2019. They then learned that two rib bones from the infant’s body had been stored at the medical examiner’s office. Eventually, DNA from one bone was extracted, and through online genealogical records of the infant’s grandparents, police were able to trace the DNA to Scott Gordon Poole, 55, who before the birth, had been in an on-and-off relationship with Byrum, Bland told the Voice.

Regarding Poole, Bland told the court he told investigators that he had no idea that Byrum was pregnant and knew nothing about the birth, which Byrum corroborated. In the Voice interview, Bland also recounted that Byrum said that she told nobody, including her parents, about the pregnancy and birth.

Among other offenses on his criminal record, Poole had been charged in 1999 with assaulting Byrum when they were living on Bay Drive in Kitty Hawk, Bland said. When the DNA link was determined, Poole’s record helped police find the couple living in Taylorsville, N.C. in Alexander County, where sheriff’s deputies had responded to “multiple occasions for domestic issues,” according to court records. The couple were married in Dare County in May 2002.

Investigators, posing as solid waste officials, had gone to the couple’s home in Taylorsville and persuaded Poole to take a survey about their services, according to the court file. After he completed the survey, he licked the envelope and gave it back to the officials, and also allowed let them take nine trash bags from a storage shed that they had offered to remove for him, the records said. DNA for Poole was obtained from the envelope, and for Byrum, from a Q-tip and hygiene pad found in the household trash.

After analysis of their DNA linked them to the infant, Byrum and Poole were arrested in October 2021 and each was charged in Dare County with one count of concealing the birth of a child, a felony. They were each released on $250,000 secured bond.

Poole was arrested again on Feb. 17, 2023, after failing to show up for a court appearance in Dare County and held on $1 million secured bond.

When Byrum declined to accept an initial plea agreement offered by District Attorney Cruden, she was indicted for murder in August 2022 and remained incarcerated, Bland said in the interview. Police had indicated when Byrum was first arrested that with further investigation, additional charges were expected.

Under the Fair Sentencing Act for manslaughter, Byrum was facing a maximum sentence of 20 years, with a presumptive sentence of 6 years. Bland said she will get credit for time served and good behavior.

After Byrum was taken from the courtroom, Poole, with balding short gray hair and a goatee on his face, and also wearing an orange jumpsuit, pleaded guilty to the failure to appear charge. The District Attorney had agreed to drop the charge related to the birth of the child.

Tillett sentenced Poole to 24 months of unsupervised probation, in addition to court and attorney fees. Marshall Ellis, Poole’s appointed defense attorney, told the court that Poole plans to move to Arizona to be with his father.

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