WILKES-BARRE – Lamont Cherry showed signs of disbelief and surprise on Thursday when authorities charged him with criminal homicide in the beating death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old daughter in May.
“Oh, my goodness,” Cherry, 36, said while gasping for air after a district judge read the charge filed against him by city police and Luzerne County detectives.
Cherry is accused, according to arrest records, with causing fatal injuries on May 29 to Zalayia M. McCloe in a Carlisle Street, Wilkes-Barre, home, where Cherry lived with his girlfriend, Christa Smith. He had been jailed on aggravated assault charges since May 30.
District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll said the homicide charge was filed after her office received the autopsy results from forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel Lane late Wednesday afternoon.
Musto Carroll said Land determined Zalayia died from blunt force trauma to the head, and her death was a homicide.
“This case is very, very tragic,” Musto Carroll said. “It deals with the death of a 1-year-old girl. It’s hard enough for prosecutors to handle these cases when we have a death of an adult; the death of a child is just something that is incomprehensible.”
Musto Carroll said her office will seek the death penalty for Cherry, if he is convicted of the homicide. Zalayia’s age makes the case eligible for capital punishment, Musto Carroll said.
Cherry was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on the aggravated assault charges Thursday via video conference in Wilkes-Barre Central Court. Prosecutors withdrew that case and filed the criminal homicide charge, apparently surprising Cherry.
Musto Carroll said Cherry had lived with Smith and her daughter for about three weeks, and Smith trusted Cherry to care for her daughter while she went out to submit job applications on May 29.
“The mother and her aunt went out to place job applications, and they left the child with Lamont Cherry to babysit,” Musto Carroll said. “The child was in good health. When they came back, they found him holding the child, and the child appeared to be asleep. She was not at that time. She started to vomit, and they called 911.”
Musto Carroll said Zalayia was transported by paramedics to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township. Cherry accompanied Smith to the hospital and later to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where Zalayia died May 31, Musto Carroll said.
Cherry told investigators that he fed Zalayia and cleaned the house while Smith and her aunt, Sparkul Lott, were away. He said he used a vacuum cleaner and Zalayia climbed the stairs onto a landing where she lay, according to the criminal complaint. Cherry denied he caused the girl’s injuries.
Cherry remains jailed at the county prison without bail. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled on Sept. 11.
With Zalayia’s death ruled a homicide, she becomes the 17th homicide victim since Jan. 1 in Luzerne County.