Society

22-Year-Old Detroit Man Darnell Cheatham Charged With 2011 Sexual Assault And Murder Of 5-Year-Old Mariha Smith

| by Will Hagle

Detroit’s Darnell Cheatham, long a suspect in the case of a 5-year-old found burned to death in an abandoned home in 2011, has been arrested and charged with several offenses, including “murder, felony murder, arson, torture, child abuse, and dismemberment and mutilation of a body,” according to the Detroit Free Press. 

The five-year-old, Mariha Trenice Smith, went missing on July 24th, 2011 after her 26-year-old mother had held a party at their house earlier that evening and drunkenly fallen asleep. The next morning, Detroit firefighters responded to a fire at an abandoned home, where they found Mariha’s body. 

Cheatham had initially been arrested in the weeks following the incident but was ultimately released and not charged with any crimes relating to Mariha. Cheatham was dating Mariha’s aunt, who shared a house with her sister. 

The man was allegedly linked to the purchase of “41 cents of gasoline at a nearby station,” ten minutes before Mariha’s body was found. Prosecutors allege that Cheatham took Mariha from his girlfriend’s party to the abandoned home, where he sexually assaulted and killed her before setting the house on fire. 

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Authorities speaking on behalf of Detroit’s Wayne County expressed the way the case has affected the community, explaining that law enforcement officials have been working off the clock in order to find the individual responsible for the tragic death of the young girl. 

“This very difficult case was solved due to the diligence and tenacity of Wayne County prosecutors and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office investigators. Much of the work was done on their own time to finally bring justice to little Mariha,” county Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a news release about the arrest. 

Cheatham is currently in jail without bond, awaiting his Nov. 1 preliminary hearing.