A Detroit dad accused of murdering and sexually assaulting his 8-month-old daughter has been cleared of all charges after the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office determined its initial findings were “erroneous.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy dismissed felony murder, first-degree child abuse and first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges against James Lee Saltmarshall, 22, on Thursday, June 29, according to MLive. In a statement, Worthy’s office said the decision was made “in the best interest of justice.”
The dismissal comes nearly two months after Saltmarshall’s infant daughter, Janiyah, passed away from what investigators initially believed to be murder and abuse, MLive reported. However, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office has since determined the child’s death was accidental.
“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,” Worthy’s office said in a statement. “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.”
Though the young father maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal, his mugshot, along with accusations that he beat and caused tearing to his daughter’s rectum spread quickly across the media. Saltmarshall did not know he was being charged in his baby’s death until he showed up to court.
“They should have never brought charges — never, ever, ever,” Saltmarshall’s attorney, Lillian Diallo, said. “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.”
The young father, who was clearly distraught at his arraignment, explained to Fox 2 Detroit that he had fallen asleep at an Inkster, Mich., hotel with his daughter cradled in his arms. When he awoke, the baby wasn’t breathing, prompting him to call 911.
Prosecutors’ revised explanation of what happened to Saltmarshall’s daughter that night greatly differed from what Inkster police claimed happened during his arraignment, MLive noted.
“Saltmarshall denied initially that Janiyah had fallen,” Inkster Police Lt. Jeffrey Smith said. “He said he attempted to pick her up and shook her in an attempt to wake her.
“As the interview progressed, [Saltmarshall] said Janiyah initially slipped off the bed on the floor and struck her head,” Smith continued. “Throughout the interview, Saltmarshall denied any responsibility in touching and damage to the anus.”
Assistant prosecutor and spokeswoman Maria Miller said, initially, there was “compelling” evidence from treating doctors that the child had suffered injuries from a sexual assault and that she later died from a homicide. However, emergency doctors and other medical professionals later met with the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office and determined that their original findings were incorrect.
It’s unclear when the medical examiner’s office realized its conclusions were wrong, the news site reported.
For Saltmarshall’s attorney, the irreversible damage has already been done. Diallo said her client is incredibly “sad” and in need of counseling. She said the young father had to miss his daughter’s funeral and still doesn’t know where she’s buried.
Moreover, Saltmarshall’s reputation will likely be tarnished forever.
“How do you get rid of the smear?” Diallo said. “There are people who will believe it forever and ever.”