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Mother, boyfriend now charged with murder in 5-year-old's death

Zykerria Robinson was struck repeatedly, according to DCF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder after the death of a 5-year-old girl who Jacksonville police said was found unresponsive while under their supervision.

The girl's mother, Michelle Cannimore, 26, and her boyfriend, Jonte Harris, 26, are in jail and were ordered Tuesday to be held without bond. Both were already charged with aggravated child abuse and had their charges upgraded to murder Monday.

They will be in court again Nov. 21.

An arrest report said Zykerria Robinson's mother admitted Harris had abused the girl since August and that he hit her over and over in the face and head Oct. 17 until she became unconscious. When Harris was questioned, police said he admitted he became enraged because the girl was “being disrespectful.”

The police report indicates the only witness to this abuse was the victim's 6-year-old sister.

Cannimore said Zykerria was unconscious on the couch when she left for work around 10 p.m. Oct. 17. When her daughter was not breathing when Cannimore returned home at 3 a.m. the following day, she called 911.

Zykerria was taken to a hospital, where she later died. According to police reports, the medical examiner ruled the cause of death was "blunt impact head trauma."

DCF criticized, responds

The executive director of the advocacy group Safe Haven of Northeast Florida lodged sharp criticism at the Florida Department of Children and Families after the couple was charged with murder.

Kathy Swafford said the child's grandparents had been trying to get custody of Zykerria and her 6-year-old sister and had spoken with DCF before the girl's death.

“They should have removed both children,” Swafford said. “They knew the abuse was happening. Maybe not to (this) extent, but they still knew it, because when the autopsy was done, she had multiple injuries in different healing stages.”

According to a report from DCF, the agency had prior contact with the children's father after concerns were lodged, but no maltreatment of the children was found.

DCF did not release any incident reports for contact with the mother or her boyfriend.

DCF said the agency investigates any allegations of abuse, abandonment, or neglect that meet statutory criteria. The agency will review any interactions the family had with the child welfare system and will release a report after the internal investigation.

Any time a child fatality occurs and any member of the household has a history with the child welfare system (a child protective investigation, regardless of findings) within the previous five years, a comprehensive quality assurance review is conducted by child welfare experts from DCF, the agency explained.

DCF interim secretary, Rebecca Kapusta, released the following statement:

I am absolutely horrified and disgusted at the abuse this child endured in her short life. That anyone would hurt an innocent child is shameful and DCF will work closely with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to hold anyone responsible for her abuse fully accountable under the law. 

There are not sufficient words to describe the pain those who loved her are feeling right now, but the department will continue to ensure her sibling is in a safe home and that she receives the highest quality care as she recovers from this loss. 

Zykerria's sister is currently in foster care.

Friends and relatives came together Friday to remember the 5-year-old. A vigil for Zykerria was held outside a Westside apartment, where flowers, teddy bears and messages decorated the front porch.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident, journalist and experienced broadcast news producer with a passion for classic and exotic cars.