Feb 19, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterA judge wants to see how Jeremy Cunningham does in an alcohol abuse treatment program before deciding whether to accept a plea agreement in his case.
"We'll take this in baby steps," District Court Judge Marvin L. Tyler said.
Cunningham pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of aggravated assault in line with a deal signed with prosecutors Dec. 12. The defendant said Jan. 31, 2013, in court that he shot three bullets from a 7 mm rifle at a pickup truck on Sinks Canyon Road, and in doing so, threatened Cody Barnes, then 19, Amanda Crain, then 18, and Dalton Weil, then 18, all of Lander, with a deadly weapon.
Cunningham told the court he was sorry for the crimes and apologized to the victims. He became religious during his 13 months in the Fremont County Detention Center and was ready to rehabilitate himself.
"I must follow God's law now and Jesus's path for life on Earth is short," he said. "I've gone from being an angry individual to having other prisoners coming to me for biblical advice."
He did not shoot at the victims, Cunningham said, but only at their truck to disable it. He did not know Crain was still in the vehicle, but saw the two young men standing next to it.
"I overreacted by shooting three warning shots in the tailgate of the pickup truck," Cunningham said.
The plea agreement saw prosecutors drop three attempted murder charges and imposed a sentence of six to 10 years in prison. Incarceration would be suspended, however, in favor of five years probation.
Cunningham would have to complete a 90-day substance abuse program and then a nine-month halfway house program with the Volunteers of America in Gillette as part of the probation. If he failed in either program, he would serve the prison sentence.
Tyler said he would allow Cunningham to start the treatment program Feb. 28 at Central Wyoming Counseling Center in Casper but would wait to see if Cunningham is successful in it before deciding whether to accept the whole agreement.
"I'm not accepting, I'm not rejecting; we'll wait and see how you do," the judge said.
Attorneys on both sides favored the agreement.
"It's easy to throw people in prison," Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett said. "I'm more concerned about the person who comes out."
Rehabilitation works far better to combat recidivism than does prison, he said.
Defense attorney Katherine Strike said Cunningham already has served 13 months "hard time" and would be somewhat confined for about another year in the two programs outlined in the plea agreement.
The victims and their families were lukewarm in their support of the deal.
"All I know is that this man does need help," Crain said. "So if this plea agreement gets him help, by all means take it, but if it won't, make sure it doesn't happen."
Weil's mother, Carol Weil, said her son supported the agreement as long as it led to Cunningham rehabilitating himself.
Barnes thought Cunningham had not taken responsibility for his actions, but wanted resolution in the case.
"I think it's very lenient," Crain's mother, Carly Crain, said. "I think he does need help, but it won't do him any good if he doesn't want it."
In September Tyler rejected a previous plea agreement in Cunningham's case. The deal would have seen the defendant serve 18 to 48 months in prison for two counts of aggravated assault.
Cunningham would have received seven months for time served, and Tyler thought the defendant would not have time in prison to receive alcohol abuse treatment. The judge also did not like that the new charges only included two victims.
The victims' mothers in court spoke strongly against that first agreement and criticized Bennett for it.
The county attorney said Wednesday he did not include the victims in crafting the first deal.
"I didn't listen to them, that's an absolute fact," he said.
They were satisfied with the new one, however, even though they were not thrilled with it, Bennett said.
"Are they happy about it? Hell no," he said. "No one should be happy about being a victim, but they can live with it and see the benefits of it."
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