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Missing man's mother waits as police sift landfill and suspect sits in jail

TAMPA — If she could, Robin Harris would march into the Falkenburg Road Jail, confront a murder suspect and demand that he tell her what has become of her son.

But Tampa police told her she can't talk to Derrick Eugene Cullins, 28, charged with second-degree murder in a crime in which one body has been found, but Harris' son remains missing.

Instead, Harris sits by her phone, waiting for updates, as police sift through a landfill looking for the body of Ryan Jerard Darkins Davis, a 20-year-old Hills­borough Community College student.

Harris last saw her son on April 5, when he told her he was going to spend the night with a friend, Carl G. Walters, 21.

Walters was Cullins' brother, and they shared a home at 1810 Humphrey St.

Early the next morning, Tampa police said, Cullins stabbed his brother 18 times and killed him, dumping his body in a wooded area near 6416 Thonotosassa Road west of Plant City.

Police found Davis' blood at the crime scene, they said. They also found a receipt indicating that Cullins had dropped something off at the McKay Bay Waste-to-Energy Facility on April 7.

The load was then moved to the county landfill on County Road 672 in Lithia. Police think that's where they'll find Davis' body, and they have been searching the landfill for six days.

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said detectives have interviewed Cullins, but what he told them has too many inconsistencies to help them pinpoint where Davis is.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," Harris said.

Harris led family and friends on their own search off of Thonotosassa Road a few weeks ago, looking for clues and items Davis had with him when he left home:

An Acer laptop with Barack Obama and Superman stickers, a green button-down shirt, blue jeans and a black backpack with one strap.

Adding to her frustration, she said, were the days it took police to get permission to begin searching the landfill.

First they needed to pinpoint where the body could be buried in the sprawling landfill. This was calculated by using surveyors' and county records about where landfill workers had been disposing of material on the day Cullen's trash was taken there.

Two weeks ago, police armed with a search warrant asked to search the landfill.

The county told police it would cost $100,000 because a subcontractor would have to be hired to help with the dig, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

Officers countered by saying they would bring in city waste workers to do the digging.

But county environmental officials told police they needed a containment plan in case hazardous chemicals or gases leaked.

Police got Tampa Fire Rescue as a hazardous materials spotter.

Finally, on May 18 police were able to assemble everyone needed for the dig, McElroy said.

She could not estimate how much the search will cost the city, but said no overtime was being used. She also said the cost would be less than the county's $100,000 estimate.

Had a subcontractor been hired, McElroy said, it would have taken as long for permitting.

Harris thinks police are doing everything they can. She has braced herself for a conclusive phone call from the landfill, but hasn't lost all hope that her son might still be alive.

"I'm really praying and hoping that he is," she said, "but at this time there's no telling."

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or at (813) 226-3368.

Missing man's mother waits as police sift landfill and suspect sits in jail 05/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 9:44pm]
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