State of Missouri vs. Michael A. Tisius

TisiusMCase Facts:  In early June of 2000, Michael A. Tisius and Roy Vance were cellmates at the Randolph County Jail in Huntsville, Missouri. Tisius’s sentence lasted thirty days, and Vance told Tisius he would be in jail for some fifty years. As such, Tisius and Vance discussed various schemes where Tisius would return to jail to help Vance escape. In one of those plans, Tisius was to return to the jail with a firearm, force the guards into a cell, and give the gun to Vance, who would then take charge and release all of the inmates.

The Randolph County Jail was a two-story brick building that had been converted from a house. The front door of the jail was kept locked, and the officers could remotely open the door when visitors rang a doorbell. Inside the front door was a small foyer, and to the right behind a counter was the dispatch area where the officers were stationed. A hall led from the dispatch area to the jail cells in the rear of the building.

Tisius was released on June 13, 2000. Shortly after his release, Tisius contacted Vance’s girlfriend, Tracie Bulington, who said that she wanted to go through with the escape plan. Four days later, Bulington drove from Macon to Columbia with a woman named Heather Douglas to pick up Tisius and drive him back to Macon; Tisius and Bulington stayed at Douglas’ home for four or five days. During the ride to Columbia, Douglas heard the two discuss various ways of breaking Vance out of jail, including the idea of locking the jailers in a cell. They told Douglas they were joking. Douglas testified that over the days to follow, she heard Tisius and Bulington say that they were “on a mission,” but they would not elaborate. Tisius and Bulington also described taking cigarettes to Vance at the jail and of having gotten information from a “stupid deputy.” At other times they would stop talking when Douglas entered the room. Douglas also testified that Tisius and Bulington kept a stereo, clothing and camping gear in Bulington’s car and that she also saw a pistol in Bulington’s car.

Beginning June 17, 2000, and continuing over several days, Tisius and Bulington visited the jail several times. At or around 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. one of those mornings, they were admitted in the front door and delivered a pack of cigarettes to an on-duty officer, requesting that it be given to Vance. A day or two later, Tisius and Bulington returned to the jail with a pair of socks for Vance and asked questions about his upcoming court date.

Bulington testified that each delivery signified to Vance certain facts, such as that Tisius had made it to town or that the jail break would not occur the night of the delivery. During some of those visits, Tisius kept a .22 caliber pistol that Bulington had taken from her parents’ home in the front of his pants. Tisius had tried to acquire a bigger gun than the one Bulington took. On the night of one of their visits, one officer testified that the Tisius and Bulington were acting “real funny,” nervous and erratic, such that he wrote a police report about the visit.

Tisius tested the gun by firing it outside of Bulington’s car window while the two were driving on country roads on June 21, 2000. Later that evening, Tisius and Bulington drove around listening to a song with the refrain “mo murda” (more murder) as they prepared to get Vance out of jail. Tisius rewound the cassette and played the “mo murda” song over and over. Tisius told Bulington “it was getting about time” and that “he was going to go in and just start shooting and that he had to do what he had to do.” Tisius also said he would go “in with a blaze of glory.”

At 12:15 a.m. on June 22, Tisius and Bulington returned to the Randolph County Jail, rang the doorbell and were admitted. Tisius again carried the pistol in his pants. Tisius and Bulington told the officers they were delivering cigarettes to Vance. The two officers present were Leon Egley and Jason Acton. Tisius made small talk with one of the officers for about ten minutes, discussing what Tisius was planning to do with his life and how Tisius was doing. Bulington testified that at that point, she was about to tell Tisius she was ready to leave but froze as she noticed Tisius had the gun drawn beside his leg. Tisius then raised his arm with the pistol drawn and, from a distance of two to four feet, shot Acton in the forehead above his left eye, killing him instantly. Egley began to approach Tisius, and about ten seconds after he killed Acton, Tisius shot Egley one or more times from a distance of four or five feet, until Egley fell to the ground. Both officers were unarmed.

Tisius then took some keys from the dispatch area and went to Vance’s cell. Tisius could not open the cell, so he returned to the dispatch area to search for more keys. While Tisius was in the dispatch area, Egley grabbed Bulington’s legs from where he was lying on the floor, and Tisius shot him several more times at a distance of two or three feet. Egley suffered five gunshot wounds, three to the forehead, a graze wound to the right cheek and a wound to the upper right shoulder. Not long afterwards, police found Egley gasping for air and a heard gurgling sound; he was surrounded by a pool of blood. Egley died shortly afterward.

Tisius and Bulington fled in her automobile. Tisius threw the keys from the dispatch area out of the car window on the way out of town. Bulington threw the pistol from the car window while crossing a bridge on Highway 36. After the two had passed through St. Joseph and crossed the Kansas state line, Bulington’s car broke down. Later that day, the two were apprehended by the police, and the keys and gun were recovered. After having waived his Miranda rights, Tisius gave oral and written confessions to the murders.

Tisius’s theory at trial was that he was guilty at most of second-degree murder because although he admits that he shot and killed the two officers, he argues that he did so without deliberation.