Killer blames untreated mental health issues in deaths

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A 34-year-old Detroit man blamed his inability to get treatment for mental illness while in prison as the reason for taking the lives of his girlfriend and her young daughter.

During his sentencing Wednesday for the murders of Heidi Walker, 39, and her daughter, 4-year-old Savannah, Marcus Tyrone Hightower apologized, but said he might not have committed the crime had he been diagnosed while in prison with mental illness. Hightower’s attorney says he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Third Circuit Judge Thomas Cameron sentenced Hightower to 50-75 years behind bars as part of a plea agreement to which the defendant agreed. He pleaded guilty in Nov. 8 to lesser charges of second-degree murder and arson.

Savannah Walker was the subject of an Amber Alert when she and her mother disappeared. Their bodies were found Feb. 20 in an abandoned house in Detroit.

Hightower, whom Walker’s family members said had dated Heidi Walker for three months, turned himself into police three days later.

Heidi Walker’s sister, Holly Cauchi, asked Cameron to sentence Hightower to the highest prison sentence possible.

“This has really been tragic to our family,” she said Wednesday. “(Heidi and Savannah) didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

Cauchi said that although Hightower would will serve his prison time until he is at least 85 years old, she wanted to see him get life in prison.

Hightower apologized to Heidi and Savannah’s family saying “I hope someday Holly ... you will find it in your heart to forgive me.” He also asked for “forgiveness” from the judge, “God and my family.”

Hightower said while he accepts “full responsibility” for murdering his girlfriend and her daughter, he also blamed his problems on his lack of treatment for bipolar disorder he says went “unchecked” and untreated while in prison on a 2007 assault case.

Heidi Walker’s brother-in-law, Brian Cauchi, says that while she was struggling with substance abuse problems “it shouldn’t have cost her her life.”

Hightower’s older brother, Gerard, apologized to the Walker family for the loss of Heidi and Savannah at the hands of his brother.

“(The family) didn’t know this was going to happen,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

During a the preliminary hearing for Walker in July, Coleman Gibson, Walker’s ex-boyfriend and a friend of Hightower’s, testified Hightower told him Feb. 16 he had killed the mother and daughter.

“He said Heidi was gone,” Gibson testified during the preliminary hearing. “He said he killed her. He said he stabbed her in the neck (and) she bled out. He was upset and cried. He said he loved (Heidi Walker).”

Gibson testified Hightower told him he placed Walker’s and Savannah’s bodies in the basement of a home on Lakeview near Forest after he killed them.

Hightower, according to Gibson, also said he strangled Savannah by laying her across his lap and “using a pillow.”

Heidi Walker was stabbed multiple times in the face and neck, according to her autopsy report. There also were bruises on her body. Savannah was asphyxiated, her autopsy showed, but the medical examiner’s report did not rule out that she had been smothered.

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