FEBRUARY 23 UPDATE: The case against Jessica Anne Cherry ended in a mistrial. Click here for the details.
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A jury will decide if a Norfolk babysitter was negligent when a 1-year-old girl she was watching was seriously injured in 2018.
Jessica Anne Cherry faces a charge of felony child neglect. A jury heard the case against Cherry on Tuesday in Norfolk Circuit Court. The prosecutor and defense rested their cases on Tuesday afternoon, and the jury began deliberating.
Prosecutor Andrew Kolp said in his opening statement that the 1-year-old had a severe bruise on her head and a skull fracture. He said the injuries happened in June 2018 at the daycare that Cherry ran out of her apartment on Little Bay Avenue.
A specialist in child abuse pediatrics from Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk reviewed the case file but did not examine the child in person. Dr. Michelle Clayton said the child’s injuries were caused by blunt force trauma and were more extensive than what would have resulted from a simple fall.
But Clayton also confirmed that of about 10 CHKD providers who did treat the little girl in person, none reported any suspicions of child abuse, as they are ethically and legally bound. The little girl was at CHKD for about five days and doctors who examined her said her injuries could be consistent with a fall.
The child’s mother testified she found Cherry on Facebook and was favorably impressed when she started taking her daughter there in the fall of 2017. In early June 2018, Jennifer Hall received a text from Cherry asking if her daughter had fallen at home the night before, but her mother said she had bathed her daughter that night and noticed nothing. The child’s father, David Hall, testified that his daughter was acting normally and had no bruises that morning when he dropped her off at Cherry’s daycare.
Defense Attorney Jennifer Gebler said accidents happen, and an injury by itself is not necessarily abuse and neglect. She said that Cherry didn’t cover up what happened, and reported it to authorities immediately. Gebler said it was a possible accident or fall.
Cherry texted Jennifer Hall and said that her daughter was losing balance and not acting right and asked her to pick her daughter up. She also sent a picture showing a bruise on the 1-year-old girl.
Jennifer Hall immediately left her office at Newport News Shipbuilding and came to the Ocean View apartment. Cherry said she was afraid to let the little girl go to sleep because she may have had a concussion. She said that she believed the 1-year-old girl fell off of a chair “kind of hard,” but not hard enough to cause the injury shown in the picture.
Cherry continued to talk about the fall, saying that the child may have hit her head on a counter during the fall before she hit the floor. The fall happened in the kitchen.
“I know accidents happen, but they usually don’t happen on my watch,” Cherry texted to Jennifer Hall.
Jennifer Hall came to the Ocean View apartment and saw her daughter. She said her daughter usually screamed with excitement when she saw her mom, but this time she looked intoxicated because she was so wobbly, and did not talk. EMTs came to Jessica Cherry’s apartment and took mom and daughter to CHKD.
Jennifer Hall told Cherry that doctors believed that her daughter had a skull fracture. The doctors said that the fracture could be consistent with a fall. The 1-year-old girl was in the pediatric ICU for about three days, and at the hospital for a total of five to six days.
In a text, Jessica Cherry told Jennifer Hall that she would block her kitchen with the gate and that typically children she watched in her daycare had free roam of the house.
The mother asked Cherry to show her the security cameras of her daughter falling, but the babysitter said that the security cameras were not working that day. She made that request in person on the day of the incident. Jennifer Hall testified that Cherry frequently showed her security videos of the children doing sneaky and funny things that were cute. On this day she claimed that her security cameras were not working.
Hall’s daughter had been watched by Jessica Cherry for nearly a year when the incident happened. On the day of the incident in a text message Jennifer Hall reassured Jessica Cherry and said that she believed accidents happen and that her daughter would be OK.
Child Protective Services was not involved for two years after the incident. A Norfolk homicide detective testified that the only person he interviewed was Jennifer Hall before he chose to charge Cherry. He did not see Cherry’s old apartment because she was not living there by the time that he began to investigate her.
Correction: This article initially named the 1-year-old child involved in this case. Since the child was not fatally injured, we have decided to remove her name.
The 1-year-old child Cherry was accused of neglecting was not the first child who was injured under her care. Cherry is charged with the second degree murder of Kaylee Thomas, a 2-year-old who was found unresponsive in her playpen at the babysitter’s home on Aug. 18, 2020.
Cherry is also charged with injuring Benjamin Gates, a 1-year-old who was found unresponsive while in Cherry’s care on Jan. 16, 2020. He died four days later, but his cause and manner of death are undetermined.
The jury did not hear testimony related to Kaylee and Benjamin’s deaths as part of the felony child neglect trial. Those cases will be handled as separate matters and have not yet been set for trial.