BELLEVILLE, Ill. – A baby sitter charged with murder clubbed a pregnant woman in the head repeatedly with a table leg, then cut her fetus from the womb in a bathtub where she later drowned the victim's three young children, an investigator testified Wednesday.
The grisly details in the September slayings of Jimella Tunstall and her family were revealed at a hearing where a coroner's jury, after a few minutes of deliberations, concluded the deaths were homicides.
Tiffany Hall, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder and faces a possible death sentence in the death of Tunstall and with intentional homicide of an unborn child — Tunstall's 7-month-old fetus.
She has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed on $5 million bond. She has not been charged in the drownings of the children, ages 7, 2 and 1, although authorities have said she confessed and led them to the bodies. Prosecutor Robert Haida has said those deaths eventually will be presented to a grand jury for possible charges.
Illinois State Police investigator David Bivens told the coroner's jury that Hall "had been thinking about taking the baby for some time" from Tunstall before going through with it.
Bivens said Hall confessed on videotape that she hit Tunstall twice over the head with a table leg in Hall's mother's East St. Louis house Sept. 15, then bound the woman's hands and feet with duct tape.
When Tunstall tried to wriggle free, Bivens said, Hall hit her again and taped the woman's mouth shut before apparently dragging the unconscious woman to the bathtub. Hall used a scissor-like implement to cut open the woman's womb and remove the fetus, Bivens said. The coroner's jury ruled Tunstall bled to death.
The body of Tunstall was first hidden by Hall in a plastic container in the basement, then dragged outside into high weeds behind the house where it was found, Bivens said.
Later that day, Bivens said, Hall summoned police to an East St. Louis park — just blocks from where Tunstall's body later was found — saying she had given birth to a stillborn child after she said she had been sexually attacked in St. Louis.
At a hospital, Bivens said, Hall refused to let doctors examine her.
Tunstall's body had not been found by Sept. 18, when her children were last seen alive with Hall.
According to Bivens, Hall admitted she drowned 2-year-old Ivan Tunstall-Collins and 1-year-old Jinela Tunstall in the same bathtub where their mother had been slain, then found their 7-year-old brother, DeMond Tunstall.
"She told DeMond it was time to take a bath, and she drowned him, too," Bivens said.
During the baby's Sept. 21 funeral, Bivens testified, Hall confessed to her boyfriend that the baby wasn't his and that she had killed the mother to get it. The boyfriend notified police, who found Tunstall's body and arrested Hall.
The bodies of the children were found in the washer and dryer of Tunstall's apartment, after Hall reportedly directed police there. They had searched the apartment earlier but did not look in the washer and dryer.
A relative of Tunstall's told reporters through tears after Bivens' testimony that she feels sorry for Hall and does not believe the death penalty should be in play.
"I just think she should be in prison the rest of her life to think about what she did," said Regina Kizer, a cousin of Tunstall's. "God's gonna have the upper hand."
James Gomric, one of Hall's attorneys, declined to comment Wednesday about the case. Hall was not in the courtroom Wednesday.