Detroit Man Charged In Rape, Murder of Girlfriend’s 5-Year-Old Niece

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Darnell Cheatham

This undated photo released by the Detroit Police Department shows Darnell Cheatham, 22, of Detroit, who was arraigned Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 in the 2011 abduction, rape and slaying of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old niece, Mariah Smith. Charges against Cheatham include first-degree murder, torture, child abuse, arson and mutilation of a body. Authorities say he set the girl’s body on fire in a vacant house a mile from her home. (AP Photo/Detroit Police Department)

DETROIT — Prosecutors have filed charges against a Detroit man they say abducted, raped and killed, then burned the body of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old niece in 2011.

Darnell H. Cheatham, 22, was arrested Friday and 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.

According to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Cheatham took Mariah Smith from her Detroit home in July 2011. 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, authorities say.

Prosecutors say Cheatham was Mariah’s aunt’s boyfriend.

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

First-degree murder under Michigan law carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Cheatham remained silent during the video arraignment other than answering yes when 36th District Court Magistrate Steve Lockhart asked him whether he understood the charges he faced.

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