A young father from Detroit was exonerated after being accused of murdering and sexually assaulting his 8-month-old infant daughter, who died April 23.
James Lee Saltmarshall, 22, faced charges of felony murder, first-degree child abuse and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. On Thursday, all charges against Saltmarshall were dropped "in the best interest of justice," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office said in a statement Thursday.
The dropped charges occurred after the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death of Saltmarshall's 8-month-old daughter, Janiyah, an accident nearly two months after she died.
“After an extensive investigation and based upon the June 16, 2017 report from the Wayne County Medical Examiner, it has been determined that the cause of death of the child was asphyxia and the manner of death was determined to be an accident. Mr. Saltmarshall and his daughter were determined to have slept adjacent to each other on an adult sized bed and upon waking Mr. Saltmarshall found the child unresponsive.”
When charges were first brought against Saltmarshall, the 22-year-old’s mugshot was heavily spread in media outlets, along with the allegation that he sexually abused his daughter and caused tearing to her rectum.
From the beginning of the case, Saltmarshall maintained his innocence. Saltmarshall claimed he fell asleep with Janiyah in his arms while sleeping in a hotel. When he awoke, she wasn’t breathing and he called 911 for help. Janiyah was taken to an emergency medical center for treatment and after she died, Saltmarshall was accused of abusing the child, an allegation his lawyer said should have never been made.
"They should have never brought charges; never, ever, ever," Saltmarshall's attorney Lillian Diallo told MLive. "There was no evidence of sexual assault; there was no evidence of a skull fracture; there was no evidence of shaken baby syndrome; there was no evidence at all behind the charges."
According to Lisa Croff, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office, Janiyah died of asphyxia due to "overlay," and the determination was made June 12, based on death records.
Saltmarshall, who has been branded a murderer and rapist for several months, believes this case will forever smear his image. He and his attorney believe the doctors and prosecutors involved in the case are to blame. One assistant prosecutor admitted the sexual abuse and homicide ruling was “erroneous.”
"In this case there was compelling evidence from the treating doctors that there was injury to the child that was a sexual assault and later, when the child died, a homicide," Maria Miller, an assistant prosecutor and spokeswoman told MLive. "...The treating emergency medical doctors and other health professionals met with the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office and it was determined that the initial conclusion of a sexual assault and a homicide was erroneous."
Although the prosecution admitted the charges were bogus, Diallo and Saltmarshall fear this will indefinitely tarnish the father’s reputation.
"How do you get rid of the smear..." Diallo said. "There are people who will believe it forever and ever.
(Photo: James Saltmarshall via Facebook)