Detroit man gets life sentence in girl’s death, torture

Tom Greenwood

Detroit — A Detroit man, who was described in court Tuesday as being a “sadist,” “rapist,” “torturer,” “predator” and “murderer,” was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit, Darnell Cheatham, 23, was given the sentence by Third Circuit Judge Ulysses Boykin for the July 2011 abduction, torture, rape and slaying of Mariah Smith, his girlfriend’s 5-year-old niece.

“This was a horrible situation,” Boykin said. “The jury has issued its ruling. All I can do is sentence.”

Authorities have said Mariah was taken from her east side home, raped and strangled. Her body was set afire on a mattress in a vacant house about a mile from her home.

"There’s nothing I can say,” Cheatham told the court Tuesday. “All I can say is nobody believes me."

A jury in December found him guilty of second-degree murder, arson, torture and other charges after a judge declared a mistrial in late July after a jury deadlocked during deliberations.

Before his sentence was handed down Tuesday, the court heard statements from Konesha Smith, Mariah's mother.

"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."

Curtis Miller told the court he had just learned he was Mariah’s father and was petitioning for visitation rights when she was killed.

"I wasn't there for my daughter," Miller said. "I never had the chance to tell my daughter that I love her, to touch her and tell her that I'm her dad."

Defense lawyer Kareem Johnson has said witnesses who testified at the first trial offered different recollections during the second trial.

"I think what happened as a result of the second trial is a travesty of justice," Johnson said Tuesday. "Mr. Cheatham maintains his innocence. Mr. Cheatham had noting to do with that child."

The Associated Press contributed.