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Lawyer: Mother watched kids die at Little Rock apartment

Family’s demise detailed at trial by John Lynch | October 17, 2019 at 7:20 a.m.
LEFT: Michael Collins is shown in this booking mug from the Pulaski County sheriff's office. RIGHT: A Little Rock police detective leaves an apartment where the bodies of three people, including two young children, were found in the 6600 block of Lancaster Road in this 2017 file photo.

A'Laylaih Fisher's killer stabbed the 5-year-old Little Rock girl more than 20 times then tried to saw off her head, and her 4-year-old brother, Elijah Fisher, was the next to die, stabbed 14 times before he was decapitated, prosecutors told a Pulaski County jury Wednesday.

Their mother, 24-year-old Mariah Cunningham, was forced to watch her children tortured before she, too, was killed, stabbed more than 30 times during the December 2017 attack at the family's apartment in Little Rock, senior deputy prosecutor Barbara Mariani said.

Based on video surveillance, authorities estimated that it took only 20 minutes to "annihilate" mother and children, Mariani told jurors in opening statements at the capital-murder trial of 26-year-old Michael Ivory Collins.

Mariani and chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson resume presenting evidence at 9 a.m. today before Circuit Judge Herb Wright.

Collins' half brother, William Burnell Alexander, 23, is charged with him and is to stand trial next month. Prosecutors said Alexander restrained Cunningham while Collins killed her children.

Robbery was the motive, although all the killers got was a TV, an Xbox video-game console and Cunningham's broken-down Honda, a vehicle they quickly abandoned, Mariani told the seven women and five men on the jury. Collins thought Cunningham had money for some reason, she said.

The children's deaths were "designed to cause the most unimaginable terror," the prosecutor said, "all because she couldn't give him what he wanted."

Shortly after the bodies were discovered, Collins -- a former roommate of the family's -- was identified as a suspect because of the "methodical" police work of detective Terry McDaniel, the prosecutor said. McDaniel also discovered that Collins had fled to Chicago and was able to direct U.S. marshals to the home where he was staying, the prosecutor said.

Federal agents found Collins asleep on the couch, with his Adidas sneakers -- spattered with the blood of all three victims -- on the floor next him. The family had been dead for five days by then.

But much of what prosecutors know about what happened in the Little Rock apartment comes from what happened next, Mariani said. In federal custody, Collins shared a cell with a Tennessee bank robber named Marino Bernard Scott, 47.

About six months after the killings, Scott contacted authorities to volunteer as a witness. He told investigators things only the killer could know, details that had been deliberately kept from the media, and all of it had come from Collins, his cellmate, the prosecutor said.

Scott claimed that Collins talked to him about the killings because the younger man said he kept seeing the woman he killed in his dreams, Mariani said, telling jurors that Cunningham could not resist her children's killers in life but would not let them escape after death.

"Like any good mother, Mariah fought and fought, and then she haunted him in his dreams," the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Katherine Streett did not unveil an obvious strategy in opening statements. She cautioned jurors not to rush to judgment before they had heard all of the evidence.

While questioning detective McDaniel, Streett asked several questions about a third brother, 28-year-old Colby Collins, whose identification was found in the apartment. McDaniel said Colby Collins had introduced Michael Collins to Cunningham when Michael Collins needed a place to stay in Little Rock, but that police had ruled him out as a suspect.

The case against Collins appears circumstantial. A security video from the apartments purporting to show the family's killers approaching their home does not reveal the men's faces and shows only one man leaving. The recording, taken from a motion-activated camera, is also not always clear, sometimes looking like stop-motion video with figures sometimes appearing and disappearing.

Earlier this month, Collins had split with Streett and her co-counsel Jeff Rosenzweig after telling the judge that he intended to act as his own lawyer. He reconciled with the attorneys late last week after being allowed to examine his case file for himself.

Metro on 10/17/2019

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