(Photo: Screen Grab via Detroit Free Press)
Mourners built a mound of stuffed toys on the steps of a burnt out and abandoned house in Detroit,Mich., where the charred remains of 5-year-old Mariha Smith was found in 2011 as prosecutors officially charged Darnell Cheatham, 22, with her ghastly rape and death on Monday.
Prosecutors charged Cheatham with first-degree murder, felony murder, arson, torture, first-degree child abuse, and disinterment and mutilation of a body, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press after a two-year investigation. He was arrested on the charges last Friday.
Appearing at a hearing in the 36th District Court via video conferencing, Magistrate Steve Lockhart ordered Cheatham held without bail in the two-minute arraignment.
Cheatham, according to prosecutors, dated little Mariha's aunt and the couple was at the home where the girl disappeared from in Burlingame on July 24, 2011. Mariha, described as a sweet little girl who liked to suck her thumb and sing was last seen sleeping in a front room of the home about 3:30 a.m. on that day.
Her 26-year-old mother said she had passed out after a night of drinking at a party held at the home she shared with her sister. She reported her daughter missing a few hours after the child was last seen, according to USA Today.
"This very difficult case was solved due to the diligence and tenacity of Wayne County prosecutors and Wayne County Prosecutor's Office investigators," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy noted in press release. "Much of the work was done on their own time to finally bring justice to little Mariha."
Cheatham was a suspect in Mariha's murder as early as two weeks into the investigation. At the time, he was only arrested on probation violations. He spent about a month and a half in jail.
According to investigators, Cheatham spent the early morning hours of July 24 with the girl's mother and aunt. He then took little Mariha from the house and sexually assaulted and killed her at the house about 12 blocks away. He then set a mattress in the home on fire.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office highlighted that Mariha's skull was crushed and she died of asphyxiation before her body burnt. Traces of gasoline were also discovered on her clothing.
"The whole situation is kind of a replay in my head because I can't forget that day," said Damara Hawkins, 18, who lives close to the abandoned house where Mariha died, in the Detroit Free Press report. "It was very sad how everything happened…It should have never happened."