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Probation, treatment, prison threat for man in Sinks Canyon shooting

Jun 27, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A District Court judge has imposed an unorthodox sentence of probation and treatment, backed by the threat of prison time for three counts of aggravated assault.

The defendant, Jeremy Cunningham, shot a high-powered rifle at three young adults in Sinks Canyon in January 2013 during a road-rage incident.

"You need to live up to your end of the deal, and I expect that you will," Judge Marvin L. Tyler told Cunningham during sentencing Wednesday

In line with a plea agreement, Tyler gave Cunningham five years supervised probation and ordered him to pay $4,200. If the defendant violates his probation, he would face six to 10 years in prison and a $3,000 fine.

The deal with prosecutors added some terms to the probation term, which Tyler followed through on in his sentence.

In a pinched voice, Cunningham told the court he was a changed man.

"I no longer want to die, but I want to live life to the fullest. I truly want to live a clean, sober, Christian life," he said.

First, Cunningham already completed a three-month-long substance-abuse treatment program earlier this year. The course was part of the plea agreement, and Tyler wanted Cunningham to complete it before deciding on the rest of the deal.

In February, Tyler was first presented with the agreement but had doubts about accepting at that time. He reiterated his apprehension June 25, but he accepted it in the end.

In addition to the drug rehabilitation, the sentence stipulated Cunningham must complete an adult community corrections program, which is his next step now. Also called halfway houses, the courses typically last nine months. Cunningham entered the Volunteers of America program in Gillette on Thursday.

Tyler in September rejected a first plea agreement that would have seen Cunningham serve a year and a half to four years in prison on two counts of aggravated assault.

After the halfway house, Cunningham would have more than four years of supervised probation before being released from his sentence.

The victims and their families attended the hearing but did not speak for or against the sentence. In the past, they also expressed doubts but also hope that Cunningham could reform himself.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett said the families told him they supported the treatment-based sentence.

"It's a positive not only for Mr. Cunningham but also for the victims and their families," Bennett said of the sentence. "They can feel safe in Fremont County. They can be sure also Mr. Cunningham is making the strides so no family has to go through this as well."

Cunningham's lawyer, Katherine Strike, also asked Tyler to give a sentence in line with the plea deal, arguing that her client is changing his ways.

"He has, I believe, exceeded the expectations of the treatment he needed to attain by this point," she said.

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