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SALT LAKE CITY — A southern Utah mother and her boyfriend have been charged with murder in the death of the woman's 14-month-old daughter earlier this year. Prosecutors say the girl was abused.
Cherokee May Dea, 24, and her boyfriend, Brendan Russell Dalton, 30, were each charged in 5th District Court on Wednesday with murder, a first-degree felony, in the April death of Dea's daughter, who is identified in charging documents only as G.L.D.
They also face three counts apiece of child abuse, a second-degree felony, and one count of endangerment of a child, a third-degree felony.
According to police, the 14-month-old girl — who had no significant health problems when she was born or when she was treated for "strep throat and severe dehydration" about three weeks before her death — died of blunt force trauma that caused hemorrhaging and injury to her brain.
A medical examiner determined the girl would have suffered the injuries shortly before becoming unresponsive. Police found the couple was likely in an argument during that time, according to charging documents.
Dea and Dalton told police they were on the couch watching a movie with the girl on April 13 when the child vomited. As he bathed the girl, Dalton told police the child was smiling, playing peek-a-boo and tracking him with her eyes. However, Dalton noted that the girl appeared to have a lazy eye, charges state.
About an hour later, around midnight, the girl was alone with Dalton while Dea went outside to have a cigarette, the woman told police. Dea reported she had stepped out because the two had been arguing after she told him she believed he was seeing other women and wanted to break up, charges state.
While the girl was alone with him, Dalton told police the baby began crying and breathing heavily, and when he picked up the child, she arched her head and shoulders back and passed out, charges state.
Dalton went out to get Dea and the two discovered the baby wasn't breathing, charges state. They attempted chest compressions on the girl and took her to Cedar City Hospital, where a CT scan revealed head injuries, charges state. The girl was rushed by medical helicopter Primary Children's Hospital and placed on life support. She died April 17.
The medical examiner also discovered that earlier fractures to the girl's wrist, upper arm and two ribs appeared to have been healing at the time she died, charging documents indicate.
As police investigated the girl's death, a woman reported that while Dea had been in her home about six months earlier, the mother had picked up the girl, who was sitting quietly in a recliner, and shook her back and forth while yelling at her, charges state.
"The witness stated that she was only a few feet away from Dea when this happened and that it was very upsetting to her," the charges state.
Morphine was also found in the girl's urine, charges state. Dea and Dalton gave no explanation for the morphine, but Dea admitted they smoked marijuana daily, used methamphetamine about every five days, and occasionally used heroin, according to the charges.
Dea also referred to Dalton as the father of her children while talking to police, the charges state, and told investigators that "although Dalton does have a temper, she never saw him do anything to G.L.D. to cause these types of injuries."
The mother said her daughter had been with her the entire day before she was taken to the hospital and that the girl had slept most of the day. Dea also said she had noted during that day that the child appeared to have a lazy eye and she was considering taking her in for an examination, charges state.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 3.
Utah State Court records indicate Dea pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge in an unrelated case Monday. She was convicted in October 2015 of intoxication and disorderly conduct; in September 2014 of a misdemeanor drug possession charge; and twice in 2012 of possession of alcohol by a minor, a misdemeanor.
Dalton is charged in a separate case filed earlier this year with attempted theft by receiving stolen property, failure to respond to an officer's signal, assault by a prisoner, all third-degree felonies. He pleaded guilty in an additional case in September to possession of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony.
Dalton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge in April 2015 and attempted burglary, reduced to a class A misdemeanor, in June 2008.