"Get off my mama!!"
Those were the last words of 5-year-old A'Laylaih Fisher as she ran to the room where her mother and little brother were being stabbed to death, according to one of the two men accused of killing her.
The girl, who loved reading and baking with her 4-year-old brother, Elijah Fisher, died with him and their mother, 24-year-old Mariah Cunningham, in a bedroom at their home at Rosewood Apartments, 6600 Lancaster Road, in Little Rock.
Cunningham's 78-year-old grandmother found their bodies three weeks before Christmas in 2017. The woman had gone to the apartment to check on the family, concerned because the children weren't in school and Cunningham wasn't answering the phone.
Investigators believe Cunningham and her children had been dead about two days when their bodies were found. Police reported finding bleach smeared on the bodies, and a steak knife believed to have been used in the killings was discovered in the bathtub.
Cunningham was a mother of three who was attending the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Tech. Family members remembered Elijah for how much he loved his toy toolbox and building blocks as well as spending time with his two sisters. The other sister, age 8, was not home when the rest of her family was killed.
Next month, on Oct. 16, 26-year-old Michael Ivory Collins of Colorado will face the death penalty at trial before Circuit Judge Herb Wright on charges of capital murder and aggravated robbery, the first time in eight years Pulaski County prosecutors have sought execution.
They are seeking a life sentence on the charges for his co-defendant half-brother William Burnelle Alexander, 23, of Little Rock, whose trial has yet to be scheduled.
The brothers also face capital murder charges over accusations they're responsible for the July 2017 slaying of 64-year-old Billie "Candy Man" Thornton, a small-time drug dealer who had once been a neighbor of Alexander.
Court filings show suspicion for the family's killing quickly fell first on Collins, who had lived with Cunningham recently but had moved out after about a week.
Cunningham's boyfriend, who was in jail on a gun charge, told detectives that if anyone had done something to the mother of three it would be Collins because he regularly robbed people and that's the kind of thing he would do.
Collins' mother told detectives that he had suddenly shown up at her North Little Rock home two days before the bodies were discovered.
Denise Alexander said it was the first time she'd seen Collins since he was 13, when he arrived at her apartment to clean up and change clothes before leaving to stay with an aunt in Chicago.
ARREST IN CHICAGO
U.S. marshals arrested him two days later in Chicago on a federal probation violation warrant. At the time, federal authorities in Colorado had been looking for Collins for about five months over accusations he had violated his probation on a 2014 conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm by moving without telling his probation officer and not participating in required counseling.
He also was wanted because police in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village had named him a suspect in a June 2017, gun-related threatening case. He'd been released from prison two months earlier, in April 2017, after serving about three months in prison.
Among Collins' belongings seized by federal authorities were some clothes that appeared to have dried blood on them. DNA testing on his black Adidas shoes by the Arkansas Crime Laboratory turned up blood from Cunningham and her children, and Collins was arrested in their deaths Jan. 8, 2018, court filings show.
Questioned by Little Rock detectives Terry McDaniel and Matt Hoffine, Collins said he knew Cunningham and that she'd given him a key to her home during the week he lived with her.
Collins said he'd left town by Greyhound bus two days before the bodies were found, saying he was frustrated because he couldn't find work in Little Rock because he was a convicted felon.
Asked whether he'd been inside the apartment after Cunningham and the children were killed, Collins replied "No" and said there would be no reason for her blood to be on him. He then ended the interview and asked for a lawyer.
'WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME'
It wasn't until two days after Christmas 2017 that William Alexander came to the attention of police as a suspect. Investigators received a tip that Alexander and his brother were part of a "robbing crew" and that Alexander was said to have stolen a TV and X-Box video game console from the Cunningham home, court filings show.
"I ain't' do nothing wrong. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Guarantee," Alexander told detectives McDaniel and Wade Niehouse during questioning on the same day his brother was arrested.
The 27-minute taped interview, which ended with Alexander's arrest, begins with Alexander telling detectives that he was outside the Cunningham apartment smoking a cigarette when the woman and children arrived. The recording was played in court at an evidentiary hearing in July.
He said he briefly spoke with Cunningham before she went inside. Then, on the spur of the moment, seeing she'd left her keys in the car door, Alexander said he drove off with the vehicle -- not stealing it but borrowing it -- and planned to have someone return it to her later. Only, he ended up abandoning the car a short while later at Autumn Park Apartments, 43 Warren Drive, and walking home. The car's power-steering was broken, which made it hard to drive, he said.
Acknowledging that he and his brother planned to steal from Cunningham, Alexander said the visit to her apartment had been his brother's idea but that he went along because "I thought it was easy money."
He said he didn't know what had happened until he saw news reports about the killings two days later and police started coming by the house looking for Collins.
But told by detectives they had surveillance video that showed him getting into the car several minutes after Cunningham and the children walked into the apartment, Alexander asks for a break in the interview so he can talk to his wife.
The recording starts again a minute later, and Alexander's story changes. He said he could tell what his brother's plans were as they waited at Cunningham's apartment.
“I think he waiting for somebody like to be in there or some s---, man,” he told detectives. “A robbery. And then I’m thinking, like, ‘f--- it, I’m broke,’ ” Alexander said. “The first thing that come to my mind, man, she come up in the house. And my brother always got gloves on. You know … this is crazy he always got gloves on like don’t matter what”
Alexander also described how Cunningham told him that she had finally saved up enough money to bail her boyfriend out of the Pulaski County jail, where he'd been held about five weeks. Alexander said he was following Cunningham and her children into the apartment when the screaming started.
"All I hear was screaming ... and my brother was stabbing her ass ... the mama. Somebody's fighting for their life. That's what it sounded like," he said, describing how the sight and sound of it froze him in place.
But not 5-year-old A'Laylaih.
"The little girl, I'm following her. I'm trying to see what she'd fixing to do," Alexander said. Then she run back there, [yelling] 'get off my mama, get off my mama.' I was just sitting there looking."
Alexander said the next thing he heard was his brother go into the bathroom, wash up and drop something metallic into the bathtub.
Alexander said he went into the bedroom where the bodies were and took the woman's TV -- which he later learned didn't work -- and an X-Box. He assured detectives that he did not have to step over the bodies to take the electronics.
"This whole time, I'm thinking that I'm broke," he said. "I ain't trying to leave with nothing."
Alexander said he drove away in Cunningham's car, dropping Collins off at the older man's request at the Greyhound bus station.
Alexander said he couldn't explain why his brother would kill the woman and children, describing their deaths as unforgivable and that he also could not be forgiven for watching what happened.
"I should have took off running. Or I should have just never went," Alexander said. "Something told me not to [go], but I just needed the [money.]"
According to police testimony, Alexander's story is somewhat at odds with the physical evidence. He told investigators that A'Laylaih was stabbed in the bedroom with her mother, but police found the girl's blood on the living room floor. Investigators also found blood smears where the TV and XBox had been in the bedroom.
Surveillance video shows Cunningham and her children entering their apartment then someone walking out carrying something about 20 minutes later. The person puts the items into the car and then walks back into the apartment. A few minutes later, the car is seen leaving,
Alexander told the judge at a recent court hearing that he intended to go to trial and would not accept a plea deal.
Metro on 09/03/2019
Print Headline: Rare death-penalty trial looms in Little Rock