Detroit man charged in rape, murder of girl, 5 - KMSP-TV

Detroit man charged in rape, murder of girl, 5

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Darnell H. Cheatham, 22, during the Monday arraignment Darnell H. Cheatham, 22, during the Monday arraignment
DETROIT (WJBK) -

Prosecutors have filed charges against a Detroit man they say abducted, raped and killed, then burned the body of a 5-year-old girl.

Twenty-two-year-old Darnell H. Cheatham was arraigned Monday afternoon on charges of first-degree murder, torture, child abuse, arson and mutilation of a body.

A judge ordered him jailed without bail until his preliminary examination Nov. 1. It wasn't immediately known if Cheatham has a lawyer.

"He may be locked up but he's still breathing. See, that's the problem - he's still breathing. He should suffer just like my granddaughter suffered," Diane Henry tells Fox 2's Taryn Asher. Henry is Mariah's grandmother.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says Cheatham took Mariah Smith, the niece of his girlfriend at the time, from her Detroit home in July 2011. Authorities say the girl was strangled and her skull crushed before her body was set on fire on a mattress at a vacant house about a mile from her home. DNA tests revealed the charred body found on the mattress was that of Mariah.

Surveillance video at a nearby gas station captured Cheatham buying gas in a can. Police have been building their case the past two years and were able to arrest Cheatham on Friday. Cheatham was a person of interest at the beginning of the investigation, and police arrested him on a parole violation but did not have enough evidence to charge him in connection with this crime so he was released. Mariah's family tells Asher they have suspected Cheatham from the very beginning.

"I am so glad that they caught him and my grand baby can rest in peace," Henry says. Mariah's grandparents say they mourn her loss every day, but it's the other children in the family who seem to be hurting the most, especially those who were also inside the house the night Mariah disappeared.

"She asked me, since they got him is Mariah going to come back? I have to take her to therapy and see a psychiatrist every month. I try to hold back the tears but it just hurts. It just really hurts," Michael Williams, Mariah's step-grandfather, shares.

Henry also shares with Fox 2 that Mariah's brother later revealed he saw Cheatham allegedly take Mariah out of the home where she disappeared from.

First-degree murder carries a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Cheatham is due back in court in November.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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