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Derrick Cullins' trial begins in deaths of two Hillsborough men

Derrick Cullins, 31, listens to the prosecutor make opening statements Tuesday at the beginning of his murder trial in the deaths of his brother and his brother’s friend in 2009.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Derrick Cullins, 31, listens to the prosecutor make opening statements Tuesday at the beginning of his murder trial in the deaths of his brother and his brother’s friend in 2009.

TAMPA — The prosecution's case looks simple: Derrick Cullins fatally stabbed his half brother and his brother's friend in 2009, dumped their bodies in the woods, then ripped out the carpeting and repainted the house to hide the evidence. Cullins had blood on his shoes and a bite mark on his chest. Blood was found all over the house.

But the trial of Cullins, 31 — charged with the second-degree murders of his brother, Carl Walters, 21, and Walters' friend Ryan Davis, 20 — is anything but simple. It's expected to take three weeks. Jurors in the trial presided over by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles were encouraged to take notes to help them keep track of mountains of circumstantial evidence.

In opening arguments Tuesday, the defense said the case is a rush to judgement. There are no eyewitnesses, no suggested motive. One body was found two days after the alleged murders. The second wasn't found until 10 months later. The defense says it will call witnesses who saw both victims alive after they were supposed to have been killed.

Assistant Public Defender Ann Shane said investigators were so certain Cullins was the killer that they overlooked contradictory evidence. "We may never know who actually killed them."

Assistant State Attorney Ada Carmona told the jury Tuesday that the two men were killed on Sunday, April 5, 2009, at the Tampa home the brothers shared.

The prosecutor said Walters' blood was found in the living room, foyer and kitchen. Davis' blood, she said, was found in the hallway, kitchen, a spare bedroom and on Cullins' shoes.

The living room carpet was missing. Investigators found the bedroom walls repainted. The house had been completely cleaned.

Walters' naked body was found in the woods in Plant City on April 7. He had been stabbed 18 times. Davis' skeleton wasn't found until the following February. It also had been left in the woods in Plant City.

Cullins told investigators he had last seen his brother and Davis when he went to bed at midnight on April 5. In the morning, he said, both men were gone, and so was the carpet.

Prosecutors said Cullins spent that morning buying cleaning products. When detectives searched his truck, they found a receipt from a nearby waste disposal site for the dumping of a carpet. A neighbor said Cullins had dumped paint cans and rags into her trash can.

But defense lawyer Shane said the house had been in a constant state of remodeling. The carpet that was dumped was never found. She said the blood evidence was conflicting.

She also said the jury would hear from a neighbor who saw and talked with Walters outside the house on the Monday after he was supposed to have been killed. She said another witness would testify that she talked with Davis, the second victim, at a graduation ceremony at the Florida State Fairgrounds in June, two months later.

Shane said the witness will testify that Davis, who was "somewhat effeminate," was wearing mascara, which helped her remember him.

"Chronology is going to matter in this case," she told the jury. "You will not rush to judgement. You will see Mr. Cullins did not kill."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3383.

Derrick Cullins' trial begins in deaths of two Hillsborough men 01/31/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 12:10am]
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