A 63-year-old man made an initial court appearance Tuesday on a deliberate-homicide charge after he allegedly slashed another man’s throat late Saturday in Laurel during an argument over whether the Army or Marines is the better branch of the military.
Justice Court Judge David A. Carter agreed with a prosecutor’s request and set bond at $500,000 for William Earl Cunningham, who is accused of drunkenly killing 40-year-old Nathaniel Horn. An autopsy determined Horn probably bled to death, court records say.
Cunningham, who said he served in the Army, gave police a breath sample that registered a blood alcohol concentration of .217 percent after being taken into custody, according to charging documents.
“The defendant is a violent multi-state violent offender who slashed the victim’s throat over an argument about the military,” Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Chris Morris told the judge during bond arguments.
Morris listed several felony California convictions for Cunningham — including for assault with a deadly weapon and willful child cruelty — dating back to the 1970s. Cunningham has lived in Yellowstone County, where he has felony convictions for drug possession and forgery, since at least 1996, the prosecutor said.
Morris said later Tuesday that investigators haven’t yet been able to independently verify if Cunningham or Horn served in the military.
Cunningham’s counsel, Assistant Public Defender Roberta Drew, did not contest the $500,000 bond, saying, “At this point, Mr. Cunningham is going to reserve bond argument for District Court.”
Cunningham is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 15 before Judge Michael G. Moses.
Charging documents say Laurel police responded at 11:48 p.m., Saturday to 705 E. First St. in Laurel after a caller, identified as Lena Heller, said a man’s throat had been slashed.
An officer reported finding Horn lying with his face on the ground and feet draped on an overturned bench near a picnic table in front of an apartment complex.
Horn appeared to be gasping for breath, court records say. He had a cut on his face and a slash an inch wide and several inches long on his throat.
When approached by an officer, another man, identified as Cunningham, repeatedly said, “You don’t hit me,” court records say.
The officer applied pressure to Horn’s neck wound, while Cunningham reportedly said, “He’s dead.”
Paramedics flown in from Billings treated Horn and pronounced him dead on the scene, according to Laurel Police.
Cunningham was read his rights and agreed to make a statement to an officer. In that statement, he told the officer that he and Horn were sitting at a picnic table in front of an apartment complex on First Street, talking about the U.S. Marine Corps.
During the conversation, Horn jumped up and took a swing at him, Cunningham told the officer.
Cunningham went on to tell the officer he pushed Horn back and said, “Then I cut him … I did what the Army taught me to do,” charging documents state.
When asked about the weapon used, Cunningham pointed to a knife on the picnic table.
The officer saw on the table a folding knife with blood on its blade and handle. The knife had a 3-½-inch blade, was silver and had imitation wood inlays in its handle.
Heller, the woman who reported the incident to police, stated that Horn and Cunningham had been arguing about which branch of the military was better.
She said Horn took a swing at Cunningham, but that she didn’t see Cunningham cut Horn’s throat. She said that Cunningham later told her, “I cut his throat. Call the police.”
In a Sunday statement to a detective, Cunningham said he and Horn had argued Friday evening because Horn had been a Marine and he, Cunningham, had been in the Army.
Cunningham said they argued and that Horn apologized Saturday morning. He said that night Heller and Horn invited him to drink again at the picnic table outside the apartment complex.
As they were drinking, Cunningham said, Horn started “getting smart again.”
He claimed Horn “came at” him. Initially, Cunningham told the officer he had “no feeling of fear” and that he was “not afraid of nothing,” but then stated that he had been scared of Horn, charging documents state.
Cunningham admitted his fear wasn’t enough to justify killing Horn, and said he remembered cutting Horn. He said he did what he was trained to do “to stop him.”
He told the detective his knife was “razor sharp,” because that’s how he keeps his knives.