Prosecutor and judge upbraid man who beat 2-year-old girl to death


Andrew Byrd (L) and Harper Mitchell (R)

Andrew Byrd, left, and Harper Mitchell, right. (New River Valley Regional Jail; Obituary)

A Virginia man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the brutal murder of a toddler in April 2020.

Andrew J. Byrd, 37, was convicted on eight total counts by a jury in Radford in late March, including aggravated murder, abduction, child neglect, child abuse, aggravated malicious wounding, assault and battery, possession of methamphetamine, and interfering with an emergency call. Jurors found him not guilty on one charge of brandishing a firearm.

On Friday, he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences by Circuit Judge Joey Showalter.

“No person, let alone a little girl, a little angel, should be hurt,” the judge said during the sentencing hearing – referring to 2-year-old Harper Mitchell. The little girl was beaten to death by her mother’s then-boyfriend, Byrd, who was watching her – and likely using methamphetamine – while Amanda Mitchell was at work.

“This is the most serious crime of all the crimes we’ve got in our books,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak said in comments reported by The Roanoke Times. “This defendant tortured that poor little girl.”

Evidence at trial showed that on April 16, 2020, Byrd showed up late to pick up Harper’s mother from work, according to Roanoke-based CBS affiliate WDBJ. Amanda Mitchell testified the defendant was acting suspiciously about the child – who was bleeding. The mother, who has also been charged in her daughter’s death, told the jury that she wanted to take her girl to a hospital. Byrd wouldn’t let her and put a gun to her head to dissuade her, she said.

When the girl’s mother and her then-boyfriend got home, she said, Byrd strangled and hit her as they argued about what to do.

The child only belatedly got medical attention after her mother contacted Byrd’s mother – who, in turn, called 911.

Harper had a faint pulse when the defendant’s mother arrived. She also had a visible mark on her forehead. The girl was rushed to a nearby hospital but was taken off life support later that week.

A police detective who testified said Byrd offered various excuses for what happened, including that she fell off a four-wheeler, fell out of a shopping cart, and reacted poorly to something she ate because of a nut allergy, WDBJ reported. He told police the young girl’s condition worsened as the day passed.

“I don’t have my little girl anymore,” Harper’s father, T.J. Mitchell, said through tears at the sentencing hearing.

“This defendant should be behind bars,” Rehak said during the sentencing hearing – saying Harper was “beaten to a pulp.”

Showalter sentenced Byrd to consecutive life sentences on the murder and malicious wounding charges. He was also sentenced to various prison terms – from 12 months to 10 years – for the other six offenses. The judge assessed those lesser sentences to run concurrently, or at the same time, as the two life sentences.

The judge also mused on the pain Harper endured.

“And I don’t mind telling you this, Mr. Byrd,” Showalter said. “If Harper were here today, she would be the first to say, ‘I forgive you.’”

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