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Sikeston man facing murder charge

Thursday, August 3, 2006

BENTON -- A Sikeston man will face first degree murder charges for the stabbing death of a former girlfriend who bore his child.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Scott County Associate Circuit Court, Division 5, Judge David C. Mann ordered James Cullum, 21, of 105 Fifth St. in Sikeston, bound over to appear before Judge David Dolan for an arraignment Aug. 10 at the circuit court level on first degree murder and armed criminal action charges.

The charges are for the murder of Tishania T. Walker, 20, of Sikeston on June 5, the day before she was scheduled to appear in court with Cullum for an ex parte hearing.

Walker's body was found June 18 in a culvert which drains into the pond located behind the Kingdom Hall on North Ingram Road by a couple who were fishing.

Jacob Zimmerman, a public defender representing Cullum, asked Mann to reduce the charge to second degree murder on the grounds that Cullum's confession showed no probable cause for first degree murder, which is a premeditated crime.

Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd countered by stating that Cullum brought the knife with the intention of obtaining custody of the couple's child.

"He ended up killing her and got custody the next day," Boyd said.

During the preliminary hearing, Detective Bobby Sullivan of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety began his testimony by recalling his response to the dispatch page when the body was found.

"It was a lake surrounded by a small subdivision," Sullivan said. "It had a drain pipe that came from the west and dropped into the lake."

The prosecution provided pictures of the scene Sullivan saw that day which included "a body sticking out of the pipe," he recalled.

"I was there until the body was completely removed from the water and placed in a body bag," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said investigators were able to identify the body as Walker who was reported as a missing person two days before the discovery.

"The SEMO Major Case Squad was activated," he said. "I was assigned to speak with Mr. Cullum."

Sullivan said he brought Cullum from the defendant's home to DPS headquarters for an interview. "We were trying to narrow down the last few hours, last few days when Ms. Walker was seen," he said.

With a hearing scheduled regarding the small child Cullum and Walker had together, "they had been talking several days prior to her coming up missing," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Cullum asked him about the body of the white male reportedly retrieved from the pond.

While Walker was black, Sullivan explained the corpse had "been decomposing for some time. ... The skin turns white."

When told that "it was in fact Ms. Walker's body we found," Sullivan said, Cullum "showed no emotion whatsoever ... he just kind of sat there."

Based on that reaction, "we felt like he had something to do with her death," he said.

Sullivan said when they first asked Cullum if he had killed Walker, "he denied it" and said "he had nothing to do with it."

Cullum later admitted knowledge about Walker's death but claimed another man had killed her because Walker allegedly gave him a sexually transmitted disease and threatened bodily harm to Cullum if he didn't help hide the body, according to Sullivan.

Investigators "basically told him it doesn't make sense," Sullivan said, as the STD was reportedly curable with a shot or pills, "nothing life threatening that he would kill her over."

Sullivan said after some additional time had passed, Cullum confessed to the murder.

"It wasn't very long at all," he said. "It was fairly quick."

Sullivan said Cullum told investigators he met Walker at Dudley Park and had brought a knife to scare Walker into agreeing to give him custody of their child.

After walking several blocks away to the culvert where Walker's body was found, Cullum pulled out the knife while seated on the culvert in front of her.

Walker then reportedly started screaming and, during a tussle with Cullum, knocked the knife out of Cullum's hand.

"He knocks her down, cuts her throat," Sullivan said, and then stabbed her, disposing of the murder weapon by throwing it in the water.

Sullivan said Cullum said he then stuffed Walker's upper torso and upper arms into the pipe but was unable to get the whole body inside. He then reportedly crawled in over Walker's body and pulled her the rest of the way into the culvert.

Sullivan added that "he finally broke down and started crying shortly after telling us he did it."