Father of teens killed in Meeker County murder-suicide arraigned on child neglect charges
LITCHFIELD — The father of two Grove City teens killed in a murder-suicide last year was arraigned Tuesday in Meeker County District Court on charges alleging he neglected his children and removed 8 pounds of marijuana and marijuana plants from his home before reporting their deaths.
The items were discovered the next day, apparently dumped behind the property, on 340th Street in Harvey Township.
Thomas Jon Cunningham, 52, is charged with felony child neglect, misdemeanor obstruction, felony fifth-degree drug possession and gross misdemeanor negligent storage of firearm charges, as well as a felony for removing a serial number from a firearm.
Wearing a suit and oval glasses Tuesday, he responded to Judge Michael Thompson's questions quickly and with a polite, "yes, your honor."
Cunningham had been summoned to appear in court Tuesday and had not been booked into jail when the charges were filed. But the Meeker County Attorney's Office — represented in the case by Lee Martie — requested that Cunningham be booked on $30,000 unconditional and $10,000 conditional bail.
"We do have some public safety concerns based on what's outlined in the complaint," Martie said.
Cunningham's attorney, Robert Schaps, rebutted that idea.
"My client has no prior record to speak of," he said, noting that Cunningham is the primary caregiver of his aging mother. "He's not addicted to any illegal drugs."
He requested that Cunningham be released on his own recognizance.
Thompson allowed that request, releasing Cunningham on his own recognizance, and set unconditional bail at $20,000. He barred Cunningham from leaving the state, from using controlled substances or alcohol, or from contacting one specific individual.
He also added that Cunningham is barred from possessing firearms, a common felony release requirement.
"All the firearms have already been removed from his household," Schaps said.
According to the charges filed last month in Meeker County District Court, officers responding to the deaths of the two teens last year originally discovered 20 guns and multiple boxes of ammunition in the home, a pickup truck and a pole shed on the property. They say 17 of those guns were discovered in the bedroom of 17-year-old David, who shot his sister, Jessica, 15, and the family dog before shooting himself the afternoon of Feb. 29, 2016. Authorities allegedly found a McDonald's receipt near the marijuana dumped on the property, which they say puts Cunningham's story in a different time frame than initially described, according to the criminal complaint. Cunningham had originally told police that he had arrived home from a quick trip to McDonald's for lunch around 2:30 p.m. to find his two children and the family dog dead. He had said that he called 911 after another individual arrived at the residence. But the McDonald's receipt had a time stamp of 1:07 p.m., which surveillance footage reportedly confirmed, according to the criminal complaint on the charges. Law enforcement believe Cunningham arrived home to find his son and dog dead outside, then entered the home, took off his shoes, and found his daughter dead upstairs. They allege he then removed all of the marijuana and paraphernalia from the residence. While doing so, they believe, he stepped on a mason jar in the basement, cutting his foot. He allegedly loaded the drugs in his pickup truck, and dumped it behind his property. Law enforcement had discovered bloody circle tracks throughout the home during the investigation, which they believe were from Cunningham's cut foot. Then an individual arrived at the home, and Cunningham called police when prompted by that person around 2:30 p.m., according to the criminal complaint. In a news release issued several days after the shooting, Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze had said there was no known motive for the shooting. David Cunningham had been a student at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. He was home Feb. 29, 2016, because ACGC does not have school on Mondays. His sister, Jessica, was a former ACGC student, but the Sheriff's Office had said that she had been schooling online at home. The allegations in the criminal complaint against Thomas Cunningham say he took his daughter to one mental health-related counseling session. But he allegedly told her not to talk about her suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and allegedly gave both children marijuana. According to the criminal complaint, Cunningham's son had previously killed a different family dog, had shot the ceiling of the home before and had pointed a firearm at another person, but was still allowed access to all of the firearms on the property.
Cunningham filed a motion Monday to dismiss all the charges against him, arguing that the evidence was obtained illegally.
He also asked the court to allow him access to photograph and inspect all evidence against him, and to identify the informants who gave information to the prosecution.
"Disclosure is necessary as a means to afford this Defendant an opportunity to establish that if informants did exist, that the information supplied to the prosecutor by them was inaccurate or misrepresentative," the motion stated.
Those matters will likely be considered at Cunningham's next hearing, set for May 31.