James Lee Saltmarshall, 22, the Detroit father accused in April of murdering and raping his 8-month-old daughter, Janiyah Saltmarshall, and held on $2 million bond, has been cleared on all charges after the Wayne County, Mich., Prosecutor’s Office determined that the charges were “erroneous,” MLive.com reports.
On April 20, 2017, Saltmarshall called 911 from the Alpine Motel in Inkster, Mich., where he had been staying, to report that his daughter wasn’t breathing. The child’s mother had gone to work, and he was alone in the room with the little girl.
Saltmarshall performed CPR on Janiyah until police and paramedics arrived. Once they got there, the baby was rushed to the hospital, where she was eventually revived. She was then transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and, after being listed in critical condition, died a few days later, on April 23.
Doctors’ claims that Janiyah’s skull had been fractured and that she had rectal tearing consistent with sexual abuse—along with a narrative woven by the Inkster Police Department that cast suspicion on Saltmarshall—led to Saltmarshall’s arrest and his being charged with felony murder, first-degree child abuse and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Saltmarshall did not learn of Janiyah’s death until charges were read against him in open court.
Saltmarshall, from day one, always maintained his innocence. When he was arraigned on April 24, 2017, he was in tears and clearly distraught; at one point, the 22-year-old begged to call his mother.
“Wait, wait, this never happened,” he said. “Wait, wait a minute. Can I call my mom, can I please call my mom [Aisha Saltmarshall]?” he pleaded with the judge.
Just three days after Saltmarshall was arrested, the first round of forensic tests showed no physical harm done to the child. The $2 million bond was reduced to house arrest and he was released from jail.
“I’ve been told by my lawyer that she took my child out to the medical examiner and they basically said there was no physical damage to my child,” Saltmarshall said to ClickonDetroit.com after he was released.
“I don’t know why people would think I would do that. I’ve been involved with CPS since my daughter was born,” Saltmarshall said.
“So that’s another reason why I don’t think I would do something like that to my child if I have to take my child to CPS almost every week, that really doesn’t make sense but hopefully, we can get to the bottom of it and go from there.”
Zuleika Moreno, 29, Janiyah’s mother, is on probation for third-degree child abuse until 2021, WXYZ.com reports.
Aisha Saltmarshall, who had custody of Janiyah until about a week before the child’s tragic death, told reporters that Moreno had lost custody of six of her children, including Janiyah, and was afraid for her granddaughter’s life in her mother’s care.
When the story initially broke that Janiyah died, Aisha Saltmarshall did not defend her son. Saltmarshall claimed that she had placed calls to police and child-protective services because she did not believe that Janiyah was safe.
“I just wanted her safe,” she told Fox2Detroit. “I didn’t need custody of her; she just needed to be in a safe environment. The environment she was in wasn’t a safe environment. DPD, CPS, DHS all failed. I think they need to be held accountable for this.”
When her son was charged, the distraught mother said he had been manipulated by Moreno.
“I’ve lost two babies,” Saltmarshall said at the time—her son and Janiyah.
On June 16, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office officially ruled the baby’s death an accident.
“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 Wayne County prosecutor and spokeswoman said.
“ ... 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.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office also released the following statement:
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 against Saltmarshall were dismissed, Worthy told the court that it was “in the best interest of justice.”
Saltmarshall’s attorney Lillian Diallo told MLive.com that Saltmarshall’s life has been ruined by the salaciousness of the story and that simply dropping the charges is too little, too late.
“They should have never brought charges; never, ever, ever,” 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,” Diallo continued.
“It’s on the internet ... that he’s a baby rapist and the murderer of his child, so everything else is just a footnote.”
Saltmarshall was not able to attend his daughter’s funeral and was not told where she was buried upon his release. According to Diallo, he is extremely sad and withdrawn and in need of counseling.
“How do you get rid of the smear?” Diallo said. “There are people who will believe [this about him] forever and ever.”