Records show woman accused of slaying pregnant woman temporarily lost custody of own children

Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 10:06 am
By: News On 6

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ A woman accused in the grisly slaying of a pregnant friend and suspected in the killings of the friend's three young children lost custody of her own daughters for a time several years ago, newly released court records show.

Those documents and juvenile records were unsealed Monday by Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley, who said the public was entitled to know background about Tiffany Hall. She is accused of cutting open Jimella Tunstall's womb and taking her 7-month-old fetus, which also died, earlier this month.

Records show that in August 1999, Hall, now 24, lost custody of her daughters after a judge found evidence that the younger one, then an infant, had been abused, sustaining ``serious injuries.'' The documents do not say who caused the injuries but did say Hall was uncooperative.

Hall's mother, Beverly Cruise, has told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she remembered seeing the baby looking ``like a rag doll,'' completely limp, before Hall lost custody. She also said the girl, now 7, still speaks mostly in unintelligible sounds and wears a diaper.

Hall's older daughter, now 8, was returned to her in August 2001 and the younger one the following April, with a judge writing that the girl was ``not at risk _ mother fit.''

Both girls were taken into state custody and placed in foster homes after Hall's arrest last week.

Authorities in East St. Louis allege Hall killed Tunstall on or about Sept. 15, the day Hall claimed she had given birth to a stillborn child. Three days later Tunstall's children _ ages 7, 2 and 1 _ were last seen alive with Hall, who was said to have baby-sat for the children.

Hall was arrested in Tunstall's death Thursday, after allegedly confessing to her boyfriend that she killed a woman in an attempt to get a baby. On Saturday, authorities say, she directed them to the bodies of Tunstall's children, who were found decomposing in the washing machine and dryer at the family's apartment.

According to documents released by O'Malley, Hall also ran into trouble in August 1996, when she was 14. She was sentenced to a year of probation on a domestic battery count that accused her of kicking her mother on the legs.

A month later, officials tried to revoke that probation, alleging Hall violated curfew, skipped a drug test, didn't stay home with her mother as directed and was truant from school. The judge allowed her to remain home at that time, but the a few weeks later, the judge ordered her sent to the custody of the state Department of Corrections ``to insure the protection of the public.'' She was freed in May 1997.

While opening some records, O'Malley did keep sealed the court documents concerning psychological testing of Hall.

Kendall Marlowe, a state Department of Children and Family Services spokesman, said Tuesday that though that agency has had dealings with Hall, including ``credible evidence'' of child abuse in 1999, he was barred by state law from discussing specifics.

On Monday, a judge entered not guilty pleas on Hall's behalf to one count apiece of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child. She is jailed on $5 million bond.

Hall has not been charged in the other three deaths. St. Clair County's prosecutor, Robert Haida, said the case would be presented to grand jurors Oct. 6.

A deputy St. Clair County coroner said Hall told investigators she drowned Tunstall's children, and autopsies on those victims appeared to support that scenario. Toxicology tests are pending to determine if the children were drugged or poisoned.

While declining to discuss Hall's background earlier this week, her public defender, Randy Kelley, said the psychological testing he requested during her arraignment Monday should gauge ``whether she was sane at the time'' she allegedly killed Tunstall and her fetus.