NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A former Norfolk daycare operator has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 2-year-old in 2020.

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Jessica Cherry was on trial for second-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Kaylee Thomas, and testified Wednesday afternoon that she “would never harm a child”. Cherry said she had been a daycare provider for about 25 years, and two years at the four-bedroom home on Jennifer Street.

Thomas was in Cherry’s care when Cherry put her down for a nap in a pack’n’play. She told the jury of four women and eight men she found the toddler unresponsive with vomit coming from her nose and mouth.

Cherry said she tried to do CPR. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide and said her probable cause of death was asphyxiation, and suspected that she was smothered.

During her closing argument, defense attorney Emily Munn said Kaylee could have choked on her own vomit that might have resulted from a sickness. Her parents had testified earlier that Kaylee was in good health at the time.

Cherry testified that she had several cameras throughout the home, but many were not functioning. The Ring camera that was in the room where Kaylee was napping was turned on its side and aimed away from the children. Cherry said she did that because the motion sensor would beep and wake the sleeping children. “Then why have the camera at all?” asked prosecutor Andrew Kolp in his closing argument.

Judge Michelle Atkins gave the jury the option of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, and on that charge, the jury returned a guilty verdict after just an hour and 15 minutes of deliberation.

Two medical experts testified Wednesday morning, cataloguing the injuries Kaylee had on her two-year-old body. Dr. Michelle Clayton, a specialist in child abuse pediatrics and the former head of Child Advocacy at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, said the girl’s bruises and cuts in and around her mouth and jaw were a sign of inflicted trauma and not accidental.

The difference between second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter is that the latter means the defendant caused someone’s death but without malice.

Cherry faces between one to 10 years behind bars when she’s sentenced in December.

However, Cherry currently has two separate cases pending.

This past February, Cherry was in court to face a charge of felony child neglect involving a 1-year-old girl who was seriously injured while she was watching her back in 2018. That child suffered a fractured skull and bleeding near the brain. That trial ended in a deadlocked jury. It is set for a retrial in September.

Another child, 1-year-old Benjamin Gates, was found unresponsive while in Cherry’s care in January 2020; he died days later. She was indicted on a charge of malicious wounding in that case. It is scheduled for next week.

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