Opening statements could begin Thursday for airman accused of murdering infant son

Ellsworth Air Force Base (MSGT. JOSE LOPEZ, JR./U.S. Air Force)

Opening statements may begin Thursday morning for the airman accused of murdering his five-month-old son.

Ellsworth Air Force Base officials said the start of the trial may be delayed due to weather concerns.

James Cunningham, a weapons load crew member on the 28th Air Craft Maintenance Squadron, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge of five-month-old Zachariah Cunningham.

Military judge Col. Sterling Pendleton along with the prosecution and defense selected the eight-member jury, referred to as panel members in court martial. The jury is made up of eight men of varying ages and ranks, including lieutenant colonel, major, master sergeant and second lieutenant.

Pendleton also made rulings on evidence, including photos of the infant’s injuries.

The 3.5 hour interview with Rapid City Police Department officers also came into question and could be heard as early as Friday.

Cunningham was originally arrested and charged March 3, 2020, by the RCPD with aggravated child abuse for punching the baby in the head. The charge was upgraded to second-degree murder when the five-month-old died nine days later after being airlifted for treatment at a hospital in Sioux Falls for a brain bleed.

The Air Force requested to take over the case in early May.


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