Judge orders psych exam for suspect in case of slain pregnant woman whose fetus was cut out

Monday, September 25th 2006, 6:22 am
By: News On 6

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) _ A judge on Monday ordered a psychological examination for a woman accused of killing a pregnant acquaintance and cutting her fetus from her womb.

Tiffany Hall, 24, looked sullen as she appeared at an arraignment hearing via video conference from the St. Clair County Jail, where she is being held on a $5 million bond.

Prosecutors say she killed Jimella Tunstall, 23, who was about seven months pregnant, and her fetus.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf entered not guilty pleas on Hall's behalf on charges of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child. Each charge carries a penalty of 20 to 60 years or life in prison, prosecutors said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.

According to authorities, Hall told police she also drowned Tunstall's three children _ ages 7, 2 and 1 _ and stuffed them into a washer and dryer at the apartment they shared with their mother. Hall has not been charged in the children's deaths.

``It's going to be some unspecified time in the future before any additional charges will be added,'' St. Clair County's State's Attorney Robert Haida said after Hall's arraignment.

Haida declined to discuss a possible motive in the slayings, saying doing so would involve airing facts of the case.

Rudolf appointed public defender Randy Kelley as Hall's attorney and granted Kelley's requests for a psychological evaluation and that Hall be segregated from the rest of the inmates for her protection.

``Any time you've got a charge of this nature that has some volatility, I just think it's in her best interest that she be protected from the influence of other inmates or possible harm to her,'' Kelley said after the hearing.

Preliminary autopsies on the children appeared to show they were drowned, said Ace Hart, a deputy St. Clair County coroner. There were no signs of physical abuse or trauma on the three children and toxicology tests were pending ``to see if they were poisoned or possibly drugged,'' Hart said.

In the days after authorities say she killed Tunstall and her fetus, Hall went about everyday life, chatting with her daughter's elementary school teacher and helping her daughter with homework, Hall's mother, Beverly Cruise, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for Monday's editions.

An autopsy showed that Tunstall bled to death after sustaining an abdominal wound caused by a sharp object, believed to be scissors, Hart has said. Authorities believe her womb was cut open after she was knocked unconscious.

Authorities suspect Tunstall was slain on or about Sept. 15.

That day, Hall summoned police to a park, saying she had given birth to a stillborn child, Hart said. She was arrested after she told her boyfriend during the baby's funeral that the baby wasn't his and that she had killed the mother to get it, authorities said.

Tunstall's body was found Thursday, and authorities began a furious search for her children. Police said the children were last seen with Hall on Sept. 18.

Authorities had visited Tunstall's apartment Friday but noticed nothing amiss while looking for photographs of the children for media outlets to publicize in their search, Hart said.

While in custody, Hart says, Hall told investigators she killed the children and hid them in the washer and dryer.

Hart said he understood why investigators may have overlooked the children during their previous trip to the apartment. ``Who would be looking in the washer and dryer?''

By Saturday night, Hart said, ``you could find them by the smell.''

The oldest, 7-year-old DeMond Tunstall, was found in the dryer and the younger two children _ 2-year-old Ivan Tunstall-Collins and 1-year-old Jinela Tunstall _ in the washer. Two of the children were found nude, the third wearing only underpants, Hart said.

Mourners left stuffed animals outside Tunstall's apartment, its door crisscrossed with white evidence tape. There was a white teddy bear, and a stuffed race car with DeMond's name.

Relatives say Tunstall grew up with Hall and had let the woman baby-sit her children. Hall has two children of her own. Illinois State Police Capt. Craig Koehler said they are ``safe and sound.''

DNA tests should determine definitively whether the baby was the one Tunstall was carrying, Hart said.

Funerals for Tunstall and her children were scheduled for Friday.