Jurors who saw pictures of the ravaged throats of a Little Rock mother and her two children deliberated only 25 minutes Thursday to find the man prosecutors called the "monster" who killed them guilty of capital murder and aggravated robbery.
With the death penalty waived, the verdict from the seven women and five men left Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright with only one sentence available to impose on Michael Ivory Collins, life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors John Johnson and Barbara Mariani literally laid the killings of 4-year-old Elijah Fisher, his 5-year-old sister, A'Laylaih Fisher, and their mother, Mariah Cunningham, 24, at Collins' feet.
Tracked down in Chicago five days after the December 2017 killings, the 26-year-old defendant was found with tennis shoes spattered with the family's blood.
Over the course of the two-day trial, prosecutors told jurors that while Collins was the driving force behind a robbery that turned into carnage, he did not act alone. Charged with Collins, his half-brother, 23-year-old William Burnell Alexander, is scheduled to stand trial next month.
Prosecutors said Alexander held Cunningham down as Collins tortured and killed her children in front of her one at a time, trying to get her to give them her cash. For some reason, the brothers believed that Cunningham had money.
When she couldn't give anything up and her children were dead, Cunningham was killed last, dying on the floor next to Elijah, the prosecutors said.
In a final act of contempt, the brothers threw A'Laylaih's body into the room with her dead family "like a sack of trash," prosecutors said, pointing to the photo that showed the girl's awkwardly twisted legs, one overlapping her brother, the other bent back against a bed.
All the brothers got for their efforts was a TV, an X-Box video game console and Cunningham's Honda Accord with its broken power steering, which was quickly abandoned about two miles away from where the bodies were discovered, they said.
Jurors saw close-up photos of the cutting and stabbing wounds inflicted on mother and children during Thursday's testimony of state Chief Medical Examiner Charles Kokes.
But the crime scene photos shown on the first day of trial were more than enough for one woman juror who was released from the panel before Kokes' testimony after telling the judge she could not bear to see any more pictures.
Kokes spent 93 minutes on the witness stand detailing the family's wounds through 23 post-mortem photographs. A'Layliah at 52 pounds and 45 inches tall was stabbed and slashed about two dozen times, most of them on or around her throat and face, the pathologist said.
Elijah, 13 pounds lighter and 4 inches shorter than his sister, had about 14 wounds, also mostly around the neck, while their mother suffered around 30 wounds, although a little more than half were superficial, Kokes testified.
Both siblings died gagging on their own blood because their throats were cut so deeply that the blade reached the spinal column, Kokes said.
The medical examiner said he could only estimate the number of injuries inflicted on the girl, her brother and mother because so many of the wounds overlapped or represented multiple cuts concentrated in a small area.
Collins did not testify and declined an opportunity to speak before sentence was pronounced. But jurors heard his voice repeatedly during the trial. They first heard it on Wednesday when prosecutors played his recorded 26-minute interview with Little Rock detectives conducted shortly after his arrest on an unrelated federal warrant.
Questioned about whether investigators would find any of the family's blood on him or his clothing, Collins said they would not, although there might be something because Cunningham threw up a lot. He said he'd lived with the family for about a week but had not been to their home at the Rosewood Apartments on Lancaster Road in some time.
On Thursday, jurors heard Collins talking with his girlfriend in Chicago in a pair of jailhouse phone calls recorded in April 2018. On each call, Collins, discussing the evidence against him, made incriminating statements prosecutors said amounted to confessions to the killings.
Jurors also heard testimony from a one-time cellmate of Collins', Marino Bernard Scott. The 47-year-old bank robber told jurors that during the month they were housed together, Collins told him how he'd killed a woman and two children, even describing how he would explain away any DNA by claiming the mother had thrown up on him.
Derided by the defense as a "snitch" looking to cut his prison time in half, Scott testified that Collins had been moved to confide in him because the younger man complained of seeing demons in his dreams.
"He said he couldn't sleep ... the female he killed was haunting him," Scott told jurors. "[She] had demons in her" and the demons were coming to him in dreams.
Collins' attorneys, Katherine Streett and Jeff Rosenzweig, called no witnesses and presented only one piece of evidence, a chart related to DNA testing. In closing arguments, Streett urged jurors not to be swayed by the "horrific" photos they had seen but look at the case impartially as they had sworn to do.
The DNA evidence especially would not stand up to careful scrutiny because of conflicting testimony from state Crime Laboratory analysts about how the blood evidence was examined and tested, Streett said.
Metro on 10/18/2019
Print Headline: Jury takes 25 minutes to convict killer of Little Rock mom, her kids; sentence is life