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story.lead_photo.caption William Burnell Alexander

The 23-year-old Little Rock man accused of helping his half brother slaughter a woman and her two children avoided his sibling's fate -- life in prison for capital murder -- by accepting a 60-year prison sentence Tuesday for his role in the December 2017 killings.

William Burnell Alexander pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and three counts of first-degree murder, reduced from capital murder, for the deaths of 24-year-old Mariah Cunningham, her 5-year-old daughter A'Laylaih Fisher and 4-year-old son Elijah Fisher.

The family was cut down while at home in the Rosewood Apartments on Lancaster Road in Little Rock about three weeks before Christmas 2017. Cunningham's grandmother found the bodies about a day later. Cunningham's oldest child, a daughter then age 8, was not at the residence when her mother and siblings were killed.

A'Laylaih had been stabbed and slashed about two dozen times, mostly on her neck and face. Elijah had about 14 wounds, also mostly in the neck. Their throats had deep cuts.

Cunningham suffered about 30 wounds, although a little more than half were superficial. Investigators collected two blood-tainted, serrated-edged knives from the family bathtub, one of which had its blade bent nearly 90 degrees.

Alexander was arrested about a month after the killings and had been set to stand trial next week. With credit for the time he's already spent in jail, he won't be eligible for parole until he's 63 years old.

Alexander's half brother, Michael Ivory Collins, is who prosecutors labeled as the "monster" who killed the family. He was sentenced to life in prison two weeks ago after a two-day trial that ended with a Pulaski County jury deliberating 25 minutes to find the 26-year-old guilty of capital murder and aggravated robbery. Collins had briefly been a roommate of Cunningham's.

Alexander's plea did not go smoothly.

He had earlier rejected a plea deal that would have required him to testify against Collins. Prosecutors said Alexander's refusal to cooperate prevented them from seeking a death sentence for Collins.

On Tuesday, Alexander at first balked at admitting wrongdoing, a requirement for a guilty plea. When asked by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright whether he had done what he was accused of, Alexander didn't answer immediately. He swayed back and forth, and turned his head from side to side for so long that the judge prompted him for an answer.

"Nah, it's not true," was Alexander's response. The judge said he was terminating the hearing, but Alexander's public defenders Julia Jackson and Lisa Walton-Middleton asked for a chance to consult privately with Alexander. About six minutes later, Jackson emerged from Alexander's holding cell to report to the judge that Alexander was ready to go through with the plea deal.

Alexander subsequently admitted that he had gone along with Collins to ambush and rob Cunningham, and that he then stole her TV, Xbox video game system and her broken-down Honda Accord after Collins killed the woman and her children. The car, which had broken power steering, was quickly abandoned a couple of miles away.

At Collins' trial, prosecutors John Johnson and Barbara Mariani told jurors that Alexander had a more insidious role in the killings, restraining Cunningham while a knife-wielding Collins tortured her children to death one at a time, trying to get Cunningham to give up whatever money the men thought she had.

Cunningham was killed when she had nothing left to give, dying next to her son with her daughter's body tossed on top of the boy, prosecutors said at the trial. The ordeal lasted only about 20 minutes, which included time for the brothers to attempt to clean things up with bleach, prosecutors contended, based on security video.

The footage shows Cunningham driving up to her apartment, then walking inside while her children scamper after her. The next person seen is a man leaving the residence, carrying something that he puts in the back of the car.

The recording is not clear enough to see who that man is, but in an interview with detectives Terry McDaniel and Wade Neihouse that ended with Alexander's arrest, the defendant admitted that he was the one who carried the things out of Cunningham's apartment, loaded them in her car and drove off in the vehicle, all shown on the video.

Alexander first told detectives that going to Cunningham's apartment was his brother's idea and that he went along because Collins said they could "make some ... easy money" there, but she wasn't home. Alexander told detectives that he didn't know what his brother intended by the promise of making money.

Alexander said he and his brother waited inside the home, but they quickly resumed an earlier argument so he walked out to smoke a cigarette, according to the recording, which was played at an previous court hearing.

Alexander said he saw Cunningham drive up with her children, spoke to her briefly before she went inside, then "hopped in the car and I left." Two days later, he heard on TV that Cunningham and her children had been killed and the police were looking for him, he told the detectives.

But after learning that police had video footage of the apartment, Alexander paused and then changed his story, telling investigators that he believed his brother was planning to rob someone and he had decided to go along because he was broke.

He said they waited inside Cunningham's apartment for her to get home and that Collins suddenly started stabbing the woman with a knife, although he did not see the attack begin.

"All I hear was screaming. I turned around ... and my brother was stabbing her ass, bro. Stabbing the mama, bro," Alexander said on the recording. "I'm like just standing there ... like to the point where I'm dead where I can't move."

Cunningham's daughter then ran toward Collins, yelling "get off my mama," but the mother and children were quickly killed, Alexander said.

"It didn't take long, bro. It was probably like 30 seconds before all three of them were dead," he said. "I just sat there, man. I just stood there in the living room. I ain't do nothing. I apologize. But I didn't know what the f*** was going on until it was done. It only took 30 seconds, and I'm still shocked."

But rather than leave empty-handed, Alexander told the detectives, he decided to steal the TV and Xbox, describing his thought process as "f* up."

"But the whole time I'm thinking that I'm broke. I ain't trying to leave with nothing, even though that s*** just happened," he said.

Alexander told detectives that he drove his brother away, telling investigators that he dropped Collins off at the bus station because Collins wanted to leave Little Rock for Chicago. Collins was arrested there by U.S. marshals who also seized his tennis shoes, which turned out to be spattered with the blood of the mother and children.

Alexander's prison sentence includes a concurrent 40-year term for an earlier slaying that he and his brother are charged with -- the July 2017 death of 64-year-old Billie "Candy Man" Thornton at his home at the Spring Valley Apartments, 8701 Interstate 30, in Little Rock. Alexander pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, reduced from capital murder, aggravated robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm for his role in Thornton's slaying.

Authorities said Thornton was a small-time drug dealer who had once been a neighbor of Alexander. At Tuesday's plea hearing, prosecutors said Collins fatally shot Thornton during a robbery attempt by the brothers and that Alexander's DNA had been found on the victim's pants leg. Collins is scheduled to stand trial in Thornton's death in December.

Metro on 10/30/2019

Print Headline: Little Rock man admits role in killing woman, her 2 young children; sentence is 60 years

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