ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah mother and her boyfriend have been charged with child abuse and murder in the death of the mother’s 14-month-old daughter.
Cherokee May Dea, 24, and Brendan Russel Dalton, 30, both of Cedar City, have each been charged with first-degree felony murder; three second-degree felony counts of child abuse; and a third-degree felony count of child endangerment.
The child was born to Dea on Jan. 30, 2016, with no known health problems or conditions. At the time of her death on April 17, the child was found to have head injuries resulting in subdural hemorrhage and ischemic injury to the brain, along with fractures to two ribs and both arms, according to a probable cause statement filed by Cedar City Police in support of the arrests.
On April 13, Dea and the toddler went to Dalton’s home at around 9:30 p.m., the report states. They were watching a movie on the couch when the toddler began vomiting sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., and the couple gave her a bath.
Dalton reportedly told police he was playing peek-a-boo with the toddler during the bath and that she was smiling and tracking him with her eyes but that he noticed she had a lazy eye, according to the statement. After the bath, they returned to the couch to continue watching the movie.
At around midnight, the couple, who had been dating for about seven months, got into a fight after Dea told Dalton she wanted to break-up over concerns he had been cheating on her, the report states. Dea subsequently went outside to smoke a cigarette.
At that time, the toddler began crying and breathing heavily and Dalton reportedly picked her up to soothe her, investigators wrote in the sworn statement, adding:
As he was holding (the toddler), according to Dalton, the child began to arch her head and shoulders back and then lost consciousness.
Dalton laid the child down and went outside to get Dea, the report states. When the two returned, the toddler wasn’t breathing, according to the statement. The two reportedly told police that they had performed chest compressions on the girl before taking her to the Cedar City Hospital.
A CAT scan performed at the hospital determined the toddler had suffered a brain injury, the report states. The toddler was quickly transported by Intermountain Life Flight to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City where she was placed on life support before being declared dead April 17.
An autopsy conducted by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the official cause of death was homicide due to blunt force trauma to the brain, which he notes was “likely caused shortly before the baby went unresponsive.”
The medical examiner’s report also noted prior injuries to the toddler that were in the process of healing, including two rib fractures, a distal right radius fracture and a distal left humerus fracture, investigators wrote in the report, adding:
When asked about these injuries, neither Dea nor Dalton had an explanation for them or how they might have occurred.
In addition to the fractures, the toddler’s urine also tested positive for morphine, the report states, noting that Dea and Dalton had no explanation for this, but they allegedly admitted to using drugs on nearly a daily basis.
“Dea admitted that she and Dalton smoked marijuana every day, used methamphetamine about five days a week and occasionally used heroin during their relationship,” the statement reads.
During the course of the investigation, authorities learned the toddler had been admitted to the hospital on April 1 by her pediatrician for strep throat and severe dehydration. She had been medically cleared and released from the hospital on April 3, according to the report.
Investigators also interviewed a witness who reported seeing Dea shake the baby approximately six months prior to her death, investigators wrote, noting:
The witness stated that Dea picked (the girl) up and began shaking her back and forth and yelling at her. The witness stated that she was only a few feet away from Dea when this happened and that it was very upsetting to her.
Warrants for Dalton and Dea’s arrest were issued Tuesday by 5th District Judge Matthew Bell.
Dalton was already behind bars at the Iron County Jail for drug possession and theft by receiving stolen property. Dea was arrested Wednesday night.
The couple is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing in 5th District Court Jan. 3.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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