Darnell Cheatham. (Booking photo)

Darnell Cheatham. (Booking photo)

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A trial is scheduled to begin in the case of a Detroit man accused of abducting, raping and killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old niece.

Darnell Cheatham, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the death of Mariah Smith, whose burned remains were found in 2011.

Mariha’s mother Konesha Smith, told WWJ Newsradio 950 that she last saw her daughter, when she put her and her three younger siblings down to sleep on the floor on the first floor of their home on Burlingame in front of a fan that was in a window. She said when she woke up, the girl was missing.

Mariah Smith

Mariah Smith

Prosecutors said Cheatham took Mariah Smith from her Detroit home July 24. 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.

Court records show more than two dozen witnesses could be called.

Jury selection starts Monday in the trial that will be held before Wayne County Circuit Judge Ulysses Boykin.

Defense attorney Kareem Johnson said Cheatham maintains his innocence.

First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Cheatham is also charged with torture, child abuse, arson and mutilation of a body.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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