By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
A Kemmerer woman has been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse after a 5-year-old girl in her care was found at the brink of death; bruised, cut, burned, with broken bones and brain bleeds.
The girl died hours after she was found unresponsive in the Kemmerer home of Cheri Marler, 51. Marler said she had been watching the girl at the request of the girl’s mother, according to an affidavit filed Monday in Kemmerer Circuit Court.
Marler faces a possible death penalty or life in prison if convicted of murder. The lesser felonies, aggravated child abuse and child abuse, are punishable by 25 years and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Sgt. Jake Walker of the Kemmerer Police Department wrote the evidentiary affidavit filed in the case Monday.
He wrote that at about 3:40 p.m. Friday, Walker was contacted by dispatch regarding a medical call. He was told a 5-year-old child had fallen down some stairs and was not breathing, according to the affidavit.
Walker was familiar with the address, 104 Cedar Ave., after being there from “several previous incidents,” he wrote.
Walker knocked at the front door. After a few moments, Marler answered the door and said the child was not breathing. Dogs ran into the home, barking, Walker noted. He told Marler to put the dogs away.
There were two other children, both girls, “running around” and “very interested in what was going on,” wrote Walker.
From the kitchen, Walker heard the television on in a nearby room and saw a small child lying on the couch.
“My initial assessment of the child was very disturbing,” wrote Walker, adding that her body was both dark and pale, with the left side of her face “completely bruised.”
The face appeared to have old bruising under new bruising, he added.
“I could see what appeared to be fresh scrapes near the eyes and nose of the child,” wrote Walker, adding the child appeared to have stopped breathing several minutes earlier.
Child Went Cold
Walker wrote that he felt the girl’s legs, arms, chest and head. He tried to wake the child but she was unresponsive.
Walker began chest compressions and spoke to the child, he wrote, but he did not get any response.
Emergency medical personnel arrived. Walker put the child on the floor once the dogs were sent away. EMS took over chest compressions. Walker arranged the child’s head for bagged breaths.
“I began to feel the head and neck of the child,” he wrote, adding that he felt “a distinct cold feeling from the right shoulder area up the neck and onto the back of the skull.”
The girl’s body temperature seemed “much cooler than expected,” wrote Walker.
When EMS cut the girl’s shirt off, Walker observed more bruising on the girl’s arms and shoulders.
“Most appeared to be old, but I did not get a close look at them. There were many on all sides of the arms and shoulders,” wrote Walker. There also were scrapes on the girl’s chest and more bruising.
Walker asked Marler what happened.
“She stated that the child fell down the stairs,” wrote Walker. “I did not remember any stairs in the home from previous visits and asked her to take me to the stairs.”
Marler took Walker to the stairwell entrance, which was covered with a cloth, draped from the top to the floor. There was a large bowl of water, presumably for the dogs, next to the stair opening. The water appeared undisturbed, Walker wrote.
He pulled the cloth back and saw a steep wooden staircase, with a small step onto a landing just before the stairs began.
At the bottom of the stairs was a pile of cardboard boxes, Walker wrote.
He asked Marler where she found the child.
“She was right here,” answered Marler, after walking down to the last few steps and pointing to the bottom of the staircase, the affidavit reads.
The Swing Set
“I then asked her about the multiple bruises on the child’s head,” wrote Walker.
Marler said some of the bruises were from that day and some were from an incident weeks earlier when the child fell off a swing set and then off a retaining wall near the swing set, according to the affidavit.
Walker asked a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office sergeant to monitor Marler. Walker went outside and took photos of the stairs and the area “where the reported fall took place.”
Walker then asked Marler how much time passed between her finding the child and calling dispatch. Marler said it was about 10 minutes. When asked again a short time later, she said it was 15 minutes, Walker wrote.
Walker asked Marler to show him the swing set and retaining wall. She said they took the swing set down and put it away.
Walker didn’t find a swing set, he wrote. He did find a small, “approximately 2-foot-high” retaining wall separating Marler’s property from the adjacent property.
Marler told EMS she was caring for the child at the request of the child’s mother, Kayla Kartchner.
Another “small child” staying in the home, however, is the child of Marler’s daughter, Walker wrote.
Walker asked Marler to call both mothers to the home.
A man and woman arrived at the front door. The woman said she was the mother of the deceased child, Kartchner.
Kartchner told Walker she had an agreement with Marler, for Marler to watch the child while Kartchner was trying to flee an abusive relationship.
Kartchner said she hadn’t seen her child for two or three days.
Both Kartchner and the man she arrived with said they hadn’t noticed any bruises on the child when they last saw her.
Walker determined that the numerous bruises were “not consistent” with the account of a stairway fall. “I began to treat the scene as a crime scene,” he wrote.
The ambulance took the child to the hospital. Walker was told she had a faint pulse after the lifesaving measures.
Another small child who had been in the home was clinging to Kartchner. Kartchner said she was this child’s mother too.
Marler, who said she was willing to go with police, was taken to the police department.
Meanwhile, the 5-year-old was life-flighted to a Utah children’s hospital.
“I have reviewed photos of (the girl’s) body and discovered there are many more bruises, cuts, and open wounds on her body,” wrote Walker. “Some were described (by medical personnel) as burns and stretching of the skin.”
Hospital workers discovered old head injuries and a current new one, all described as “brain bleeds,” wrote Walker.
Broken Back, Head Injuries
The other little girl, who had been clinging to Kartchner, was taken into protective custody and questioned by a child forensic interviewer.
The affidavit says the girl told her interviewer that Marler spanked them with a wooden spoon and pushed her sister down the stairs.
Marler, who was also being interviewed, said both girls had fallen down the same set of stairs a few weeks prior, Walker wrote.
A doctor told an agent for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation at this time that the 5-year-old’s injuries could not have been explained by falling down the stairs.
She had multiple rib injuries, a punctured lung, several head injuries (old and new), a broken back, many cuts, scrapes and “countless bruises” on her entire body, Walker related from the medical examination.
Later that day, Marler “admitted” to the police chief that she’d slapped and hit the girl five to 10 times “in a clapping motion,” Walker wrote.
“(She) explained it as though she was clapping with (the girl’s) head in the middle,” he continued. The girl then went into a different room to lie down.
Marler walked in and found the girl unconscious, she related, with a large amount of mucous coming from her nostrils. Marler then called 911 and reported that the girl had fallen down the stairs, the affidavit states.
Marler also told the police she’d beaten the girl with kitchen utensils the day prior, Walker related from the interview.
After reviewing photographs of the child’s body, Walker wrote “I believe the injuries are a result of current and past physical abuse.” He and other officers, “Were shocked at the amount of bruising, cuts, abrasions, and the overall condition” of the girl’s body.
‘Things Went Fuzzy’
Police confronted Marler after they saw photographs of the child’s body, Walker wrote.
It was then that Marler admitted that over the past month, the girl’s actions had made her “angry,” Walker wrote.
In the most recent incident, “things went fuzzy and she began to smack (the girl) many times on both sides of her head (by) … swinging both of her arms out wide and bringing them together with (the girl’s) head in between her hands,” Walker wrote.
Marler said she also started to scream at the girl, saying she, Marler, couldn’t “take it anymore.” Marler said she hit the child more, on the face many times, Walker wrote.
Marler sat on the loveseat. The girl stood in front of her. Marler pushed her away, the affidavit alleges.
The document relates that Marler said she also grabbed the girl by the shirt, then used her own front leg to kick the girl in the ribs. Marler then got up and walked into the kitchen.
The girl followed Marler into the kitchen, where Marler said she couldn’t take it anymore and she was going to find a place for the girl to go, the affidavit states.
The girl walked into the front room.
She Asks The Girl To Come Back
Marler herself went into the front room after about 10 minutes, and found the girl lying on the floor, Walker wrote.
Marler tried to wash snot from the girl’s face, since it was oozing from the girl’s nose, the affidavit indicates.
The affidavit says the girl wasn’t breathing at this time.
Marler told police she was apologizing to the girl, asking the girl to come back to her. She then called 911.
She said she tried to wake the girl with water, but did not know CPR.
“Marler stated she did tell dispatch that (the girl had) fallen down the stairs, even though she knew she did not fall,” Walker wrote.
Walker obtained a search warrant for the home.
During all of this, the girl remained in critical condition and wasn’t expected to survive. Her doctor said she appeared to have been “severely beaten,” and had old and new brain bleeds and marks and abrasions made by both an object and bare hands.
She died at about 9 a.m. Saturday. Her autopsy will be done in Utah, Walker wrote.
Officers arrested Marler, who stayed at a hotel with her husband that night so that the crime scene would be undisturbed.
The Marlers’ four dogs had been placed in an animal shelter during the investigation.
The younger sister was taken to the hospital for her own exam.
She too, appeared to have suffered abuse, though on a smaller scale, Walker wrote. There were bruises, cuts and scrapes on her head, face, back, arms, legs and bottom.
Walker said the injuries appeared to have been from “more than just mere spankings.”
‘Highly Physically Disabled’
Marler appeared in Kemmerer Circuit Court on Monday morning for her initial hearing and was vocal toward Judge Gregory S. Corpening.
Corpening cautioned Marler repeatedly not to talk about the charges themselves until she can get an attorney.
Marler answered, when Corpening asked, that she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or impaired by a mental illness that day. She said she’s from Ogden, Utah, but has lived in Lincoln County for 16 years with her husband.
Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred told the judge during a discussion on the bond setting that Marler has a criminal record, including felony theft, theft and misdemeanor drug possession, all charged before 2006 and all in Utah.
Marler said she came to Kemmerer to change her life around.
Her whole family lives in Lincoln County, she said.
“I’m also highly physically disabled,” she said. “I can prove I’m disabled, just to let you know.”
Marler said spinal fluid is leaking from her spine, paralyzing her limbs. She said she was due to get help for it Tuesday.
Allred asked the court to hold Marler without bail, which is legal in Wyoming in cases punishable by death.
Corpening, after some deliberation, agreed to hold Marler without bail.
Marler, conversely, had pleaded for a low bond. She promised she wasn’t a flight risk, saying, “Nope I’m gonna face this like a trooper.”
“I beg of you to make it just a little more affordable please,” said Marler, after Allred said a bond of $750,000 also would be acceptable.
Allred told Corpening he has not yet decided whether his office will seek the death penalty for Marler. The prosecution is ongoing.