DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit man convicted in the abduction and slaying of his girlfriend's 5-year-old niece was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A jury in December found Darnell Cheatham, 23, guilty of first-degree felony murder, arson, child abuse and other charges in the July 2011 death of Mariah Smith. An earlier jury deadlocked in July. Wayne County Circuit Judge Ulysses Boykin on Tuesday gave him the mandatory sentence under Michigan law.
"My daughter is dead at 5 years old," Konesha Smith told the judge before the sentencing. "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."
Defense lawyer Kareem Johnson told the judge that the outcome of the retrial was "an absolute travesty of justice" and said the testimony of the witnesses "changed dramatically between the first trial and the second trial."
"From the very first time I met Mr. Cheatham, he has maintained he had nothing to do with what happened to that young lady." Johnson said.
Asked if he wanted to speak, Cheatham told the judge: "Ain't nothing I can say. ... 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 told Cheatham. "That's been done, the jury has issued its ruling, and all I can do is sentence."
The judge then issued the life sentence for murder and lesser sentences for torture, child abuse, mutilation of a body and arson.
According to prosecutors, Cheatham took Mariah from her east side home, then raped and strangled her. They said he set her body on fire on a mattress in a vacant house about a mile from her home.