Murder suspect contradicts other witnesses

By Gus Bode

Murder suspect contradicts other witnesses

Verdict should be in today

Taffia Cunningham, a former SIU student on trial for murder, gave testimony Friday that contradicted other witness statements.


Cunningham, 25, testified that she was not an active participant in the robbery attempt that led to her brother’s death. She is charged with murder, armed violence and home invasion while armed with a firearm. A person can be tried for murder in Illinois if they are found responsible for a death during commission of a forcible felony.

Cunningham, her brother Tyree, Donald Druid, Karen Smith and Jahneria Singletary allegedly conspired to rob Prentice Washington, 21, of money and crack cocaine. Druid, Smith and Tyree allegedly traveled from North Carolina to help Singletary and Cunningham. Washington testified Tuesday he shot and killed Tyree when he entered Washington’s apartment with a shotgun.

Despite previous testimony that said the main purpose for the trip to Illinois was the robbery, Cunningham testified she believed Tyree’s visit from North Carolina was to see SIUC. Under cross-examination she said she did not show Tyree the campus, introduce him to professors or tell faculty members about his visit.

Cunningham, a former sociology graduate student, also testified Friday the robbery attempt came less than a month after a 10-minute conversation with Singletary and Blair Tibbs of dislikes about Washington that was “blown way out of proportion.” She said Singletary was pregnant with Washington’s child at the time and was mad because he did not return her efforts to be together.

Singletary allegedly helped Washington hide his .38-caliber handgun and a section of carpet from his apartment. Sgt. Robert Burns, of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, testified Friday it is believed Tibbs and Singletary threw the .38-caliber handgun in Campus Lake sometime after the robbery attempt.

Cunningham said she only saw her brother for a short amount of time before traveling to Murphysboro, and in that time she said they did not speak of the robbery, despite previous statements claiming they talked about the robbery and brought walkie-talkies and a .22-caliber handgun.

She said she only accompanied the group on the trip to Washington’s home because she was concerned they would “do something stupid.”


Cunningham testified she argued against her brother robbing Washington. She said that once he allegedly held Candace Johnson, Washington’s new girlfriend, at gunpoint and began moving toward Washington’s residence, Tyree told Cunningham to leave and pusher her down.

Cunningham said she heard three shots and watched her brother’s body drop. She also said she watched her brother, still struggling, being carried by Washington and being placed in a maroon car, despite testimony from several witnesses stating the Tyree was dead and was placed in the white car.

She allegedly said in her first interviews her brother closed the door to Washington’s apartment behind him, but she testified Friday it was open and she watched her brother’s body drop after being shot.

During cross-examination from Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Wepsiec, she denied remembering statements she allegedly made to police the day after the shooting that indicate she admitted involvement in the planning and execution of the robbery attempt that were inconsistent with her testimony.

Druid was sentenced to six years in prison for home invasion with a firearm, Smith has negotiated a plea agreement for 30 months probation for burglary, and Singletary, a former SIUC student, will be in federal court Monday for charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Singletary is still charged with murder, armed violence and home invasion while armed with a firearm.

The trial is expected to go to the jury for a verdict early this afternoon.

Reporter Greg Cima can be reached at [email protected]