Charged with beating a 5-year-old girl to death and abusing both the girl and her little sister, a Kemmerer babysitter pleaded not guilty to all three charges Monday morning.
Cheri Marler, 51, fought back tears when she gave her not guilty pleas to first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse in Lincoln County District Court.
Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said during the arraignment that his office has decided not to seek the death penalty in Marler’s case.
First-degree murder in Wyoming is punishable by life in prison with or without parole, or the death penalty, but death penalty cases are rare.
Each of the two child abuse counts is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Mental Health Discussion
Lincoln County District Court Judge Joseph B. Bluemel was careful to establish that Marler’s mind was sound enough for the hearing.
He also asked Marler’s attorney, Kent Brown, if he, Bluemel should pause the case to have Marler evaluated for mental illness.
Brown said he saw no evidence of a need for that.
Marler said she takes medication that interferes with her thinking to address a physical disability that she has, but added that she would not be taking that medication until later in the day.
“But like, right now, I’m good,” she said.
Criminal defendants in Wyoming may not be arraigned unless they are mentally sound enough to give a cognizant plea.
Bluemel told Marler to let him know if her mental clarity faded during the arraignment.
Allred and Brown recommended vastly different bond amounts, with Allred asking the court to hold Marler on a $1 million bond, and Brown asking for a $50,000 cash or surety bond so that Marler could get out of jail and address what she described as a fluid buildup in her legs.
Marler’s criminal history, though it includes multiple felonies, is “pretty ancient” and doesn’t include violent-crime convictions, Brown noted, adding that she can’t recall ever having missed a court hearing.
“She wants to take care of her medical condition and stay away from the public,” said Brown. “I don’t think anything near a million dollars is necessary to ensure the terms of bail.”
Allred, conversely, said Marler faces “some of the highest charges you can have,” which makes her an automatic flight risk.
Allred also said he is concerned for the safety of the community.
Bluemel assigned a $100,000 cash or surety bond to Marler with many caveats, including that she complete a substance abuse assessment, not have care of any children, avoid weapons, drugs and alcohol; stay in Wyoming except for planned medical visits to Utah; keep in touch with her lawyer; and show up to court hearings.
“So, if you can find a surety (service) that will post that $100,000 bond for you, then you’ll be released on bond,” said Bluemel.
During the preliminary stage of her prosecution in Kemmerer Circuit Court in November and December, Marler was not given a bond because the death penalty was still being contemplated, and death-penalty cases can proceed without a bond.
According to an evidentiary affidavit filed in the case, Marler on Nov. 25 was caring for the 5-year-old girl, the girl’s younger sister and at least one other child.
Marler called 911 to report that the 5-year-old, who was nearly dead on her couch, had fallen down the stairs in Marler’s home.
When police suspected otherwise, Marler reportedly “admitted” that she became angry with the girl and hit her, “clapping” the girl’s head between her hands repeatedly. After that, the affidavit states, the girl went into a different room to lie down.
Marler found the girl unconscious with mucous oozing from her nostrils before calling 911, the document relates about Marler’s police interview.
The girl died at a hospital in Utah hours later after her pulse was revived slightly.
The girl’s mother, Kayla Kartchner, was arrested last week on unrelated felony and misdemeanor drug possession charges, along with Kartchner’s boyfriend Jason Giek, who faces three felony-level drug possession charges.
On the day her daughter was found nearly dead in Marler’s home, Kartchner reportedly said she hadn’t seen her child in two or three days.