A Michigan judge sentenced a Detroit man to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the rape and brutal murder of a 5-year-old girl.
The Associated Press reports a jury in December found 23-year-old Darnell Cheatham guilty of first-degree felony murder, arson, child abuse and other charges for the July 2011 death of Mariah Smith. His life sentence for the murder conviction was mandatory under Michigan law.
The girl’s mother, Konesha Smith, told Wayne County Circuit Judge Ulysses Boykin before the sentencing that she regretted trusting Cheatham around her daughter. At the time of the girl’s death, Cheatham was dating Konesha Smith’s sister, Quanita Smith.
“My daughter is dead at 5 years old,” Smith said. “She couldn't enjoy her life. She couldn't see her little brothers and sisters anymore. It hurt me so bad that I trusted him around my kids and this is the way he did me.”
Cheatham stood accused of raping and killing the young girl after a night of drinking with the two sisters at Konesha Smith’s home.
Konesha Smith said she woke up later that night after having fallen asleep on her living room floor and her daughter was gone.
Police found Mariah Smith’s body in an abandoned home nearby. Prosecutors said Cheatham took the girl there and raped her, then strangled her and set fire to her body.
His first trial for the crimes ended with a hung jury in July.
The Detroit Free Press reports Cheatham’s defense attorney, Kareem Johnson, said that what happened at the second trial was a “travesty of justice.”
Johnson told the court that witness testimony had changed dramatically between the two trials. He said semen from another individual was found on the victim’s clothing.
Mariah Smith was thought to have been last seen sleeping in the front room of her home.
Two years after the crime was committed, Quanita Smith reportedly went to investigators and said she woke up after the party and saw her niece in bed on top of Cheatham but didn’t do anything about it because she was so drunk.
She told investigators she waited two years to mention what she saw because she was afraid of Cheatham.
Boykin asked Cheatham if he had any words for the court prior to being sentenced.
“Ain't nothing I can say,” he answered. “I said all I could say. Nobody believed me.”
“There really isn't anything I wanted to editorialize on because this is a very horrific situation,” Boykin responded. “That's been done, the jury has issued its ruling, and all I can do is sentence.”