Former St. Louis principal sentenced to two life terms for pregnant teacher’s murder

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U.S. District Judge Ronnie L. White sentenced a former St. Louis middle school principal to two consecutive life terms in prison for hiring a friend to kill his pregnant schoolteacher girlfriend. Cornelius M. Green, 42, pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and one count of murder-for-hire in the deaths of 30-year-old Jocelyn Peters and her unborn child, Micah Leigh, in 2016.

A jury in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis found Phillip J. Cutler, 46, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, guilty of the same charges in March. Judge White sentenced Cutler last week to two consecutive life terms in prison.

During the hearing, Peters’ mother, Lacey Peters, expressed her grief, stating that Green was supposed to protect Jocelyn but instead became her executioner. “All she ever did was love him,” she said, adding, “and she loved that baby so much.”

Peters’ cousin, Dedra Peters, remarked that Jocelyn “had a light around her at all times” and “touched the heart of anyone she came in contact with.” She added that Peters’ death has left the family “empty and heartbroken.”

According to a sentencing memo filed by prosecutors, Peters had previously miscarried and terminated one pregnancy at Green’s urging but was determined to keep Micah Leigh. However, she was unaware of Green’s multiple affairs and his plan to poison Micah Leigh by crushing pills into her food. When that plan failed, Green contacted his longtime friend, Cutler, and used money stolen from a school fundraiser to pay him.

“He literally stole from children to pay for killing his own child,” said Dr. Nicole Conaway, principal of Mann Elementary when Peters worked there. Dr. Conaway also recalled the pain in Peters’ students’ eyes when she informed them of their teacher’s murder, noting that “this trauma will follow them for the rest of their lives.”

Green and Cutler orchestrated the murder through a series of phone calls, with Green sending Cutler a UPS package containing $2,500 in cash on March 7, 2016. Cutler arrived in St. Louis on March 21.

Green established an alibi by taking a train trip to Chicago, giving Cutler the keys to his Kia Optima and Peters’ apartment. On March 24, Cutler used Green’s keys to enter Peters’ apartment and shot her in the eye using a potato as a silencer. Peters was working on baby shower invitations at the time. Green had Peters buy potatoes days before her murder.

After confirming the killings, Green bought a return train ticket. Upon returning to St. Louis, he initially tried to get Peters’ mother to check on her, knowing what she would find. When she was unavailable, Green went to Peters’ apartment and called 911, pretending to have no knowledge of the circumstances. He lied to the police and instructed Cutler and others to conceal evidence. Cutler was detained the same night after attempting to retrieve the Kia Optima from the crime scene.

When detained, Cutler ingested two pieces of paper from a notebook in his pocket.

“The devastating actions of one depraved individual continue to impact the victims’ family, colleagues, friends, and young students,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore. He expressed gratitude for the resources provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office in bringing closure to the case.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) and the FBI investigated the case, with cooperation from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tiffany Becker and Zachary Bluestone are prosecuting the case. Former SLMPD Homicide Detective Mark Biondolino was the case agent. The case against Green was initially prosecuted by Chief Trial Attorney Marvin O. Teer, Jr., and Assistant Circuit Attorney Rob Huq.


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