Case against Ellsworth airman accused of killing infant transferred to military justice system

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: June 11, 2020

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The case against an Ellsworth Air Force Base airman accused of fatally injuring his infant son will be transferred from state court to the military justice system.

James Cunningham, 26, is charged with second-degree murder in the March death of the 5-month-old baby at their Rapid City home.

Lara Roetzel, chief deputy at the state's attorney office, says the Air Force has the power to take jurisdiction in cases involving its personnel, even if the crime happened off base.

Roetzel said military court is comparable to civilian court, while military prisons are tougher than South Dakota institutions.

Air Force Lt. Joshua Sinclair tells the Rapid City Journa l that Cunningham was transferred from the Pennington County Jail to Ellsworth and if convicted would be sent to a military prison.

Cunningham is charged with murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for engaging in an act that is "inherently dangerous to another" and shows a "wanton disregard of human life," said Sinclair.

He said the maximum punishment upon conviction is life in prison without parole, a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade and forfeiture of all pay. Cunningham, if convicted, would have faced a mandatory punishment of life without parole under South Dakota law.

Sinclair said Cunningham can use a military defense lawyer or hire his own civilian attorney.