(Lander, Wyo.) – Ninth District Court Judge Marvin L. Tyler has rejected a plea agreement for Jeremy Cunningham, who was charged in a shooting incident in Sinks Canyon on Jan. 31 of this year. Cunningham, following the rejection, withdrew his guilty pleas to two aggravated assault and battery charges.
The charges stem from him allegedly firing at least three rifle rounds toward three victims on Sinks Canyon Road. Originally, Cunningham was charged with three counts of attempted second degree murder and three charges of aggravated assault and battery, corresponding to the three victims.
The plea agreement that was rejected had Cunningham admitting guilt to two of the assault charges in exchange for 18-48 months in prison and a dismissal of all other charges.
Tyler said there were two factors that played into his rejection. The first was that the two charges only identified two victims, effectively leaving out the third, Amanda Crain. He said there had been no explanation of why the number of charges didn’t align with the number of victims. Secondly, he said the pre-sentence investigation report recommended substance abuse treatment, and the short sentence wouldn’t allow for enough time.
With the rejection and withdrawal of the guilty pleas, Cunningham remains charged with three assault charges and is in custody at the Fremont County Detention Center.
All three of the victims, young adults, were given a chance to speak prior to the judge’s ruling, as were their mothers. Crain called it “crap” that she wasn’t included in the plea agreement. It was noted that Crain was crouched in the cab of a pickup when three shots penetrated the tailgate. A spare tire stopped the bullets, and several people testified she could have died had it not been for the spare tire. (Read more about the alleged crimes in this story.)
“If you accept this plea, you are telling Amanda she is nothing and means nothing in a court of law,” Crain’s mother, Carly told the judge.
The other victims, Dalton Weil and Cody Barnes, also testified. The mothers spoke to the sense of safety that has been lost since the shooting, Weil’s mother Carol noted that she and her husband now sleep with guns by the bed.
Both Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett and Cunningham’s attorney, Kate Strike, spoke to the role the victims played in the crime. They both said that Cunningham felt scared because he had been followed by the victim’s vehicle, driven by Dalton Weil, after Cunningham had flipped the bird. Bennett also said that Dalton Weil approached Cunningham after both vehicles were parked, and that Dalton Weil knew Cunningham was armed. It was also alleged that Dalton Weil drove side-by-side with Cunningham before pulling ahead and turning off the road.
Despite the victim’s role, Bennett said Cunningham had a duty to retreat if he felt threatened, a duty to not stop after Dalton Weil had pulled over. He said he should be punished for failing to abide by that duty and firing his weapon in the direction of the victims. He said there was no evidence of attempted murder and it was his ethical obligation to dismiss those charges, which were filed before he came to office.
Strike, however, said that her client had pulled off the road first, eliciting a “No way” exclamation from Dalton Weil in the audience.
Strike said Cunningham recognizes his fault, and that the whole incident shook him to the core and has made him want to seek substance abuse treatment. “He is taking full responsibility that it was an inappropriate action,” she said.
Generally, defendants are given a chance to speak at a sentencing hearing, but because Tyler rejected the plea agreement he did not allow Cunningham to do so to avoid further incrimination.