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HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WJBK) – 30-year-old Matilda Brown Gardner and her husband, 32-year-old Randy Garnder, were charged with first-degree murder and torture in the death of their nephew, four-year-old Robert Byrd.

Matilda shook her head as each charge was read — murder, torture and child abuse.  They’ll spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted.  They’re being held without bond.

In court, Matilda Gardner was asked whether she understood the charges.

“Yes, but I didn’t do anything,” she responded.

Robert, whose mother died and father was in prison, had been living with his aunt and uncle, their children and his brother.

Robert died weighing only 24 pounds.

“They had a torture chamber, had this baby in a room for days in the dark beating him from sun up to sunset, not feeding him,” said Erica Shepard, Robert’s Godmother.

“She’s been telling everybody she was tired and tired, and she couldn’t take it (any) more,” said Walter Brown, Matilda’s uncle.  “Why didn’t you go to somebody in the family that wanted that little boy?”

“She moved three times to avoid the system.  The system failed here,” said Percy Baker, Godmother to Robert’s brother.

Friends and relatives have said Matilda had a history of violence.  Her sister’s neighbor had a personal protection order against her because she brutally assaulted her.

Relatives have also said she isolated herself and the children.  Only her sister Connie saw the kids.  She said she babysat for all of the children in March and Robert was fine.

“The family is completely done with the both of them.  We are done,” said Connie Brown, Matilda’s sister.

Even the mayor, a former police officer, still can’t believe what happened to this child.

“Someone had to know that this abuse was going on,” said Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 31 years of police service.”

Funeral arrangements for the child are pending.  Donations to help with funeral and burial costs can be made to the Robert Byrd Memorial Fund at any Fifth-Third Bank.

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