Suspect arraigned on first degree murder charge
East St. Louis, Ill. – Prosecutors say the case of a defendant accused of killing a woman and cutting her unborn baby from her womb will go before a grand jury on October Sixth.
Tiffany Hall of East St. Louis, Illinois, was arraigned today, and a judge entered not-guilty pleas on her behalf to charges of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child. Judge Heinz Rudolf also ordered a psychological evaluation and appointed a public defender.
The judge says a sharp object was used to cut open Jimella Tunstall's abdomen and remove her fetus. Authorities over the weekend found the bodies of Tunstall's three children -- ages seven, two and one -- stuffed into a washer and dryer at their apartment. State's Attorney Robert Haida declined to discuss a motive.
Police in East St. Louis, Ill. say three children who were found this weekend stuffed into a washer and dryer had been drowned.
The woman accused of killing them already faces charges of killing the children's mother and cutting the woman's fetus from her womb.
Police say the case broke last week after Tiffany Hall's boyfriend contacted authorities. Hall had held a funeral for a baby she had claimed to have delivered stillborn.
But police say Hall later confessed that she had instead cut the fetus from a woman whose body was later found. The victim, though, had three other children who had also gone missing; days of searching for them ended Friday when they, too, were found dead.
The coroner in St. Clair County says the kids were drowned, though their bodies were found stuffed into a washer and dryer.
Tiffany Hall already faces murder charges for the mother and fetus. But police say Hall also is suspected in the children's deaths, and more charges could follow.
Neighbors and family say Hall was a close friend to the woman she's now accused of murdering. Members of the community held a prayer service for the family Sunday.
Hall remained jailed Sunday on $5 million bond, charged with first-degree murder in Tunstall's death and with intentional homicide of an unborn child.
She likely will be arraigned Monday on the two charges, each carrying a penalty of 20 to 60 years or life in prison, prosecutors said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.
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 Monday.
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.
Hall 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, DeMond Tunstall, 7, was found in the dryer and the younger two children Ivan Tunstall-Collins, 2, and Jinela Tunstall, 1, 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.
An autopsy showed that Jimella 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.
Relatives say Tunstall grew up with Hall and had let her 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.
Meanwhile, the funeral for Tunstall and her three children has been planned for Friday.