Airman convicted of killing his 6-month-old son


RAPID CITY (AP) – A military jury has convicted a senior airman at Ellsworth Air Force Base of killing his 6-month-old son.

The jury found 26-year-old James Cunningham guilty of murder Thursday in the March 2020 death of his son, Zachariah, following a four-day trial at the Air Force base.

Cunningham can decide whether the military judge or the jury will impose his sentence, which is a maximum of life in prison without parole. If he chooses the latter option, three-fourths of the jury must agree on the sentence. Cunningham would serve time in a federal military prison.

Prosecutors said Cunningham lied three times before confessing to punching his son and that medical evidence showed the baby died from being shaken and hit multiple times.

The defense argued the baby suffered injuries when he fell from a kitchen counter where Cunningham had placed him.

The jury made its decision after hearing testimony from Zachariah’s mother Caitlynn Merhoff, law enforcement, Cunningham’s co-workers and medical experts, including some who treated the child, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Jurors listened to the 911 call, viewed body camera footage from officers responding to the house and hospital, and watched the video of Cunningham’s interview with Rapid City police officers. Cunningham did not testify.

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