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Testimony begins in 1990 cornfield slaying of elderly woman


Prosecutors in the Carroll County State's Attorney's office call it "the cornfield case."

They identify the crime in that manner because the decomposed body of 74-year-old Margaret E. Cullen was found last August in a cornfield along Route 30 in Hampstead.

Yesterday, testimony began in the trial of Abras Morrison, 21, one of two men charged in the slaying of Mrs. Cullen, a longtime resident of Homeland in North Baltimore.

Mr. Morrison, of the 6000 block of Lanette Road in Baltimore County, and Troy Dominic Shellington, 21, of the 3600 block of Cottage Ave. in Baltimore, were charged last August with first-degree murder and kidnapping in Mrs. Cullen's death.

In opening statements before Circuit Judge Francis Arnold, County State's Attorney Thomas Hickman said that the chain of events which led to Mrs. Cullen's death began when Mr. Morrison stole one of her checks and forged a $2,000 payment to himself.

Mr. Morrison, a graduate of Mount Saint Joseph High School, was employed by the Cullens as a nurse's aide. He took care of Mrs. Cullen's husband, Edward, a retired dentist, who was seriously ill.

When bank officials discovered that the check had been forged and Mrs. Cullen filed a theft report with the police department, Mr. Morrison decided to do something about it, Mr. Hickman said.

Mr. Morrison and Mr. Shellington went to Mrs. Cullen's home in the 5400 block of Springlake Way, cut out a basement window, entered the house and waited for Mrs. Cullen, Mr. Hickman said, and when she returned home they grabbed her.

In the early hours of Aug. 14, the two men drove Mrs. Cullen in her 1984 Cadillac to the cornfield and stabbed her to death, the prosecutor said.

Baltimore City police arrested Mr. Morrison and Mr. Shellington on Aug. 24 after piecing together information about a missing person report filed on Mrs. Cullen and the check forgery complaint.

Michael Kaplan, Mr. Morrison's defense attorney, said the confession his client gave to Baltimore homicide detectives was improperly obtained.

"We will call Andras Morrison to testify and explain how he was tricked or induced or coerced into giving a confession in this case," Mr. Kaplan said.

Judge Arnold denied defense pretrial motions to suppress the confessions at trial.

In testimony yesterday, the branch manager of the Signet bank where Mrs. Cullen banked, said she received an unusual call from Mrs. Cullen on Aug. 13 asking her to drop the theft and forgery charges against Mr. Morrison.

"Her sentences were very short and abrupt and she sounded almost fearful," said the witness, Willette McCants.

Ms. McCants said she became worried that someone was in the house when she heard Mrs. Cullen's poodle, Ashley, barking in the background. She went to Mrs. Cullen's house, received no response to a knock and found a note on the door that said Mrs. Cullen was shopping.

Mr. Hickman said it was during this period that Mrs. Cullen was being held prisoner in her home by Mr. Morrison and Mr. Shellington. The two men tied her up and forced her to call Ms. McCants at the bank, the prosecutor said.

A missing persons report was filed on Mrs. Cullen when she failed to visit her husband for several days at Good Samaritan Hospital.

While investigating Mrs. Cullen's disappearance, Baltimore Police Officer Jack Baker found a suitcase packed with women's clothing upstairs in her house, a phone book opened to travel agencies and her hungry dog -- a scene police believe was staged by Mr. Morrison and Mr. Shellington.

Officer Baker also found a piece of paper with the name "Troy" and other addresses written on it, according to police reports.

After running the names through a police computer, homicide detectives went to Troy Shellington's home. They recovered the Cullens' car, and they arrested Mr. Shellington and Mr. Morrison.

After an interview at city police headquarters, Mr. Shellington led detectives to Mrs. Cullen's decomposed body in Carroll County.

Meanwhile, at police headquarters, Mr. Morrison continued to express frustration about the forged check during a taped interview, Mr. Hickman said.

" 'All that we did and I'm still on the hook for $2,000," the prosecutor quoted Mr. Morrison as telling police. "It just doesn't make sense that I still owe $2,000.' "

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