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Mother, boyfriend plead not guilty in 5-year-old's beating death

Autopsy found Zykerria Robinson died of blunt trauma to the head

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville mother and her boyfriend pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges in the death of the woman's five-year-old daughter.

Michelle Cannimore, 26, and her boyfriend, Jonte Harris, 26, entered pleas of not guilty in court to felony second-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse charges.

The couple has been in jail since Oct. 18, the same day Cannimore's daughter, Zykerria Robinson, died.

An autopsy found the cause of death was blunt impact head trauma.

According to an arrest report, Cannimore admitted Harris had abused the girl since August. She told investigators Harris repeatedly struck her daughter in the face until she lost consciousness Oct. 17.

Questioned by police, Harris acknowledged that he lost his temper because the girl was "being disrespectful," according to the report.

Cannimore recalled that her daughter was unconscious on the couch when she left for work about 10 p.m. Oct. 17. By the time she got home about 3 a.m. the next day, her daughter wasn't breathing.

After dialing 911, Cannimore took Zykerria to an area hospital, where she later died of her injuries.

The police report indicates the only witness to this abuse was the victim's six-year-old sister. She has been placed in foster care.

The case has spawned an outcry from advocates toward the Florida Department of Children and Families, the state agency in charge of investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect.

Kathy Swafford, executive director of Safe Haven of Northeast Florida, said the girl's grandparents had been trying to win custody of Zykerria and her sister 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.”

A DCF report states the agency had prior contact with the children's father in response to concerns about the children's safety, but welfare workers indicated they found no evidence of mistreatment.

In a statement, Interim DCF Secretary Rebecca Kapusta said the agency will work closely with Jacksonville police to hold those responsible for Zykerria's abuse accountable.

"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," she said in part.