The mother of Keona Owens, the Buffalo woman charged in the death of her 2½-year-old son, is defending her daughter who now faces a manslaughter charge.
Toni D. Owens told The Buffalo News on Friday she didn't believe her daughter could have harmed Xavion Hazzard, who prosecutors say died earlier this week from multiple blunt force injuries.
Authorities have charged Keona Owens, 22, and her boyfriend, Bashar Hall, 23, with first-degree manslaughter. Investigators believe Xavion was beaten and shaken to death.
"She didn't do this," Toni Owens told The News. "... Keona, she's a sweet girl. She was just looking for love in the wrong places."
Toni Owens said Hall resisted allowing her to have contact with her three grandchildren. She said her daughter wasn't allowed to make phone calls and Hall controlled the money coming into the household from public assistance.
Toni Owens said she believes her daughter was afraid of Hall.
"He made her turn against her own family," she said. "We all love Keona. We love her."
Police and other first responders were called to a Weaver Street home in Buffalo's Kaisertown neighborhood at about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday. Someone called 911 from inside the home and responders were told they were going on a rescue call for cardiac arrest. Firefighters were told by a dispatcher there was a 2-year-old child at the home who wasn't breathing. Xavion was pronounced dead at Oishei Children's Hospital.
Keona Owens was arrested Thursday night at Buffalo Police headquarters, two days after Hall was arrested.
Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said earlier this week that Hall has never been arrested. During Friday's news conference, neither Flynn nor Buffalo Police officials would comment when asked whether there were ever allegations of domestic abuse in the household.
In an interview with The News on Wednesday, Keona Owens said she didn't believe Hall intended to kill Xavion, who was not his biological son. Owens and Hall have two daughters together, a 1-year-old and a 2-month old.
"I completely forgive him," she told The News Wednesday, a day before her arrest. "I forgive him. I do. And I want him to know that I don't hate him."
Toni Owens said she never saw her daughter with any physical injuries and her daughter never told her she was abused, but before Easter earlier this year she saw Xavion with a black eye. The grandmother asked how her grandson was injured.
"She said, 'Oh, mom. You know how boys play,' " she said her daughter told her.
Toni Owens asked her daughter if Hall had hit Xavion and Keona said no; she said she and her children were fine.
Toni Owens said she knows that her daughter and Hall had fought. Keona once told her mother she had braids pulled out from the back of her hair.
Keona Owens said earlier this week she and Hall had known each other in elementary school and the two had reconnected through Facebook about two years ago. She called him "a great father" and "a great boyfriend to me."
Toni Owens and her daughter moved from Buffalo to Virginia in December 2014, for Keona "to get a fresh start," Toni Owens said. In March 2015, as a senior in high school and about four months before she would have graduated, Keona ran away from home. She also reported her daughter ran away in Buffalo in October 2011 and April 2014, according to Buffalo police reports.
Toni Owens said she was a foster mother to Keona early in her life and adopted her at age 2.
"If I hadn't adopted her, they were going to put her in another foster home," she said. "I fell in love with her."
In the last several years, she said she once went nine months without seeing her daughter, she said.
Keona Owens and Hall had lived in the Weaver Street apartment for about a year, according to Toni Owens, who said she helped find her daughter the residence. The building where the family lived is a four-unit residence, with two addresses. From Jan. 1, 2016, through Thursday, police had been called 20 times to those addresses.
Before Tuesday, there was only one other call for police at the address for Owens and Hall since the start of the year. An ambulance was called April 7. The case was disposed of with a "referral to an outside agency," according to records provided by the Buffalo Police Department through a Freedom of Information Law request. No further details of the incident were immediately available.
Authorities did not explain what led them to arrest Owens on Thursday night at Buffalo Police headquarters, two days after her boyfriend was arrested.
"Once the original, initial arrest was made and the arraignment, the homicide detectives just continued the investigation, continued pursuing evidence and facts of what happened," the district attorney said at a Friday news conference. "And based upon what they uncovered over the course of the past two days, like I said before, there was probable cause now to arrest her."
Even though both defendants face a charge of first-degree manslaughter, Flynn said both could face a murder charge under the legal theory of "depraved indifference" to human life.
"There is a higher charge here of murder under the legal theory of depraved indifference and that avenue is going to be explored for both of the defendants," Flynn said. "And until we get a complete picture of all the medical records, until we get the final autopsy report in its final format and are able to review all of the evidence in this case, at that time a determination will be made if in fact we have the evidence to prove that charge. Right now we definitively have, I believe, the probable cause on a manslaughter, first-degree."
Flynn praised the work of Buffalo police and homicide detectives.
Owens, who was held on $500,000 bail, is due back for a felony hearing Wednesday, while Hall is scheduled to be back in court Monday.