GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Rev. Robert Dean allowed a homeless man to stay in his Grand Rapids church several years back, he had no concerns about the man’s behavior.
“He was always very helpful. Shoveling snow. Cutting grass,” recalled Dean to Target 8. “I don’t think there was anything quirky. Nothing that would arrest your attention. Totally unassuming. Totally mild-mannered.”
Never did he suspect early on that his guest would one day be the target of a nationwide manhunt, suspected of murdering two women.
The church’s temporary tenant was Derrell Demon Brown, the man who would later gun down his girlfriend and her niece, according to police.
Brown has been on the run since March 13, 2019, the day police say he shot and killed Cherletta Baber-Bey, 47, and Keyona Griffin, 25.
He’d been living at the home on Sheldon Avenue SE with Cherletta Baber-Bey, Keyona Griffin and the home’s owner, Jacquline Baber-Bey.
Target 8 investigators have been digging into Brown’s past, as well as the timetable the day of the murders and the police response to a 911 call from one of the victims.
BROWN “CONTROLLING” TOWARD WOMEN
Dean told Target 8 it was a couple years before the murders that he spotted Brown rummaging through the dumpster behind Dean’s New Life Church of God in Christ on Jefferson Avenue SE.
He had seen Brown around the neighborhood before, but this time he looked different.
“It was like OK, ‘You look disheveled, like you haven’t taken a bath or shaved, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t have a place to stay,'” said Dean, recalling the day he offered Brown a room at the church.
Three months into Brown’s stay, Dean said he received a phone call from a woman who’d been dating the church’s temporary resident.
“She said, ‘You’re his pastor. Can I come talk to you?'” Dean said.
When she arrived at the church office, she explained that Brown had forbidden her to talk to any men, something her job required.
“She said he was controlling,” explained Dean.
The woman wanted Dean to counsel Brown, hoping he could convince him to be less possessive.
“She felt he was very nice, very mannerable, but there was this certain little element she was afraid of,” recalled Dean, who said he advised her to exit the relationship.
It was at that point Dean said Brown himself barged into the pastor’s office.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I was just talking about you,’ and he’s like, ‘I forbid her to talk to males,'” recalled Dean. “I said, ‘Oh, no you’re not.’ I said, ‘You sit down. This is my office. You can’t tell nobody what to do.'”
What happened next stunned the pastor.
Dean told Target 8 the woman opened her mouth to speak and Brown lunged at her as if was preparing to strike her.
“He jumps up out of his chair and says, ‘I’ll slap (you),'” remembered Dean, who said Brown did not make good on his threat because Dean quickly moved to restrain him. “I said, ‘You get your stuff and you get out of here. You leave her alone.'”
Dean said he told Brown not to come back.
“I told him, ‘You need some professional help. You need some counseling because you cannot run around terrorizing women,'” Dean said.
“JEKYLL AND HYDE”-LIKE CHANGE “SHOCKING”
Dean reiterated that was the first time he’d seen Brown behave aggressively.
“For me it was almost like a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde because I’m like, ‘What?’ It was shocking,” Dean said.
When Brown later became the prime suspect in the murder of two women, Dean’s thoughts returned to the bizarre scene in his office.
“I was thinking about (the woman that visited him). I was thinking, that could have been her,” said Dean, who also wondered what, if anything, he could have done to ensure Brown got help. “I was really, when the news first came out, what? Wow. Could I have done more? That’s the million-dollar question for me.”
Brown’s criminal history includes a 2005 arrest for felony assault on a woman — not Cherletta Baber-Bey.
Court documents outline allegations Brown brutally beat his then-live-in girlfriend. The records say that he bound her with cords, kicked her in the face, gagged her, urinated on her and doused her with lighter fluid. All the while, her four children — one of whom is also Brown’s child — were sleeping upstairs. She got away the following morning by getting on her daughter’s school bus and asking the driver to take off.
The woman filed a report with the Grand Rapids Police Department but said in court that she didn’t want Brown to get in trouble because she still loved him, knew he needed help and didn’t think he would get in in prison.
Ultimately, a judge ruled there was enough evidence to send the felony kidnapping case to trial, but it ended in a guilty plea. Brown was ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
According to the police report on the double homicide, Brown’s 2005 victim said he had two guns during the attack and told her he would kill her and then kill himself.
VICTIMS’ FAMILY UNAWARE OF VIOLENT HISTORY
The family of the two women Brown allegedly gunned down in March 2019 told Target 8 they had no idea Brown had a violent history.
“We didn’t have any reason to think this man would (commit murder),” said Onyah Griffin, who lost her daughter, Keyona, and her sister, Cherletta.
“Some people say (Brown) was a little strange. He was a little different. But they said that about my sister too. She wasn’t a social person. Just because you’re quiet and a little different than everyone else doesn’t mean you’re a murderer,” she said.
Onyah Griffin’s only problem with Brown was his jobless status.
“I didn’t like him because he didn’t work. He should have been, but he wasn’t, and my sister was footing the bill for everything. So that was an issue for me,” Onyah Griffin said.
Keyona Griffin did not like Brown either. Onyah Griffin said her daughter was considering moving out because she did not like seeing him every day.
However, he was Cherletta Baber-Bey’s first real boyfriend, and the women wanted to see her happy.
The couple met at the public library in downtown Grand Rapids. Cherletta Baber-Bey routinely went to the library with her mom, but the one day she went alone, she met Brown.
“She loved this man, and I want to believe that at one point he loved her too, that it wasn’t this elaborate ruse just to have some place to stay,” Onyah Griffin said.
Onyah Griffin does not know what prompted Brown to shoot her sister and daughter that day, but she’s determined to get answers and justice.
“We’re never going to give up. He needs to pay for what he did, and it’s not if he gets caught, it’s when he gets caught. He can’t run forever. They’re going to catch him,” she said.
U.S. Marshals think Brown fled the state after the murders and may be getting help from relatives to evade capture.
He has family in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
If you have any information about Brown’s whereabouts, you’re asked to call the U.S. Marshals at 1.877.WANT.2 or contact them online at usmarshals.gov/tips.