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Norfolk daycare worker sentenced to 10 years in prison after death of little girl, injury of other child

Prosecutors say on August 18, 2020, Kaylee Thomas was found unresponsive at a home on Jennifer Street. Medics took the girl to CHKD, where she later died.

NORFOLK, Va. — A Norfolk daycare worker accused of killing a 2-year-old girl in her care was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday, according to the Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. 

Jessica Cherry was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a jury back in August of 2022. She was originally charged with second-degree murder, but the judge put involuntary manslaughter on the table for jurors during jury instruction.

Prosecutors say on August 18, 2020, Kaylee Thomas was found unresponsive at a home on Jennifer Street. Medics took the girl to the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, where she died later that day.

During the trial in August, prosecutors brought the former head of child abuse pediatrics at CHKD to the stand. They showed photos she took during the autopsy, where she identified cuts, bruises, and scrapes around Kaylee’s body to the jurors.

Cherry then took the stand and through tears told jurors she put the toddler down for a nap that summer day. When she came to check on her, Cherry said she found the toddler unresponsive with vomit coming out of her nose and mouth.

She said she started CPR and yelled for her husband to call 911.  

During the autopsy, the chief medical examiner said they found bruising and scrapes around the girl's face, possibly due to smothering. But defense attorneys argued the medical examiner also said the bruises could have resulted from  the CPR. 

Both the prosecution and defense focused on the presence of cameras in Cherry’s home. Prosecutors showed photos of a camera lens facing down in the room where the girl napped.

Cherry said that is so the alarm on the camera didn't sound when it detected motion and didn't wake up the children.

On a recommendation from the Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney, Cherry received a sentence that went above sentencing guidelines of probation to six months. 

Her total sentencing also included felony child neglect for a separate incident that hurt a child in 2018. 

In that case, a 1-year-old had allegedly fallen from a chair and hit its head. The child was taken to the hospital for treatment, where doctors found extensive bruises on the back of their head and a skull fracture. 

"As a parent, there is no greater nightmare than putting your baby in the hands of someone who will hurt them," Commonwealth's Attorney Ramin Fatehi said in a statement. 

"Jessica Cherry brought that nightmare to life for these parents and their children. These were hard-fought cases with disputed facts, but we have held Ms. Cherry accountable and done what we can to protect other children from Ms. Cherry."

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