Woman gets 4-year term in death of daughter


An East Baltimore woman was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison in the beating death of her 18-month-old daughter, but a prosecutor suggested the woman's live-in boyfriend, who is awaiting trial for his alleged role in a violent drug ring, may have abused the child.

Cheryl Antoinette Smith, 23, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison, with all but four years suspended, after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the March 18, 1992, death of her daughter, Shanikqua Johnson. Smith entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges the existence of sufficient evidence to convict.

Smith, who had told authorities her boyfriend was alone with the baby in her home in the 800 block of McKim St. before the child stopped breathing, tearfully told the court yesterday: "I didn't do anything to harm my child."

The boyfriend, 20-year-old Reginald Jones, is an alleged "worker" in the "Jamaican Black Mafia," described as a violent drug ring that allegedly killed a man who gang members mistakenly thought was a federal agent.

Mr. Jones had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with two shooting deaths in July 1992. Baltimore prosecutors dropped those charges, along with armed robbery and drug charges, on March 24.

Less than a week later Mr. Jones was among five people charged in a federal indictment with conspiring to distribute heroin in the Lexington Terrace and Lafayette Courts public housing projects in the city.

In presenting a statement of facts to support the manslaughter conviction against Smith, Assistant State's Attorney Emmanuel Brown noted that contusions and "knuckle prints" were present on the dead baby's forehead, and that a medical examiner said the prints were more likely the boyfriend's than Smith's.

Other evidence of abuse included a second-degree burn on the baby's thigh, nail marks and contusions on her chest and a lacerated liver, Mr. Brown said. The medical examiner's office ruled the girl's death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen.

Smith had been charged with first-degree murder, but Mr. Brown said, "We didn't have a first-degree case." The prosecutor said the negligence element of the manslaughter charge was fulfilled by the woman's failure to ensure her child's safety.

After hearing the woman deny a role in her daughter's death, Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe asked her if she still wanted to plead guilty. When Smith said she did, the judge snapped: "Then obviously you've got to accept responsibility for killing your baby."

The judge also criticized the woman for allowing herself to become pregnant while awaiting trial.

Before Smith was handcuffed and escorted from court, her other child, a 5-year-old boy, was ushered from the courtroom, but his cries of "I want my Mommy" could still be heard.

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