NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Norfolk daycare operator who was convicted in the death of a two-year-old and had previously pleaded guilty in a separate child neglect case was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On Friday, a Norfolk judge sentenced Jessica Cherry to a total of 10 years of active time for both cases.
In early January, Cherry pleaded guilty to a child neglect charge. She was previously charged with a more serious Class 4 child neglect in connection with an incident regarding a one-year-old child being seriously injured at the Norfolk daycare she operated.
During her trial, Norfolk prosecutors stated that the girl sustained a severe bruise on her head and had a skull fracture. In February 2022, a mistrial was declared after a jury couldn’t decide whether to convict Cherry on the charges, citing concerns with the evidence in the case.
The Commonwealth ultimately revised her charges, allowing Cherry to plead guilty to the lesser felony child neglect charge.
In a separate case, a jury found Cherry guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in August, after she had originally been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Kaylee Thomas. The little girl was found unresponsive in a playpen at Cherry’s home.
Cherry, 39, chose not to make any statement Friday, but she did testify last summer at the trial where she was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, saying she would never harm a child.
Cherry was a daycare provider for about 25 years at an apartment and more recently at a four-bedroom home on Jennifer Street. She said she had several cameras but many were not functioning, including the one in the room where Kaylee was found.
The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide and said her probable cause of death was asphyxiation, and suspected that she was smothered.
Prior to sentencing, Cherry’s defense attorney called Kaylee’s death tragic and awful, and told the judge that Cherry called 911 and tried to revive Kaylee. But prosecutor Andrew Kolp said Cherry showed no remorse and accepted no responsibility, painting herself as the victim.
Cherry also got three years active time for the child abuse conviction involving serious injury to the one-year-old girl. That child suffered a fractured skull and bleeding near the brain in 2018.
Commonwealth’s attorney Ramin Fatehi office said these were hard fought cases with disputed facts, but his office has held Cherry accountable and done what it can to protect other children from Cherry.
Fatehi said in a statement to WAVY, “as a parent, there’s no greater nightmare than putting your baby in the hands of someone who’ll hurt them – and Jessica Cherry brought that nightmare to life for these parents and children.”
In addition to the 10 years active prison time, Judge Michelle Atkins suspended an additional five years, and ordered Cherry to never again operate a daycare or have unsupervised contact with children.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney set aside a third case against Cherry, involving a one-year-old boy. Benjamin Gates was found unresponsive in Cherry’s care in 2020, and then died days later. In that case the medical examiner could not find a cause of death that would have been connected to Cherry.