Man pleads not guilty in fatal Laurel slashing

2014-08-15T10:37:00Z 2014-08-20T08:47:06Z Man pleads not guilty in fatal Laurel slashingBy EDDIE GREGG egregg@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A man accused of slashing another man’s throat during an argument over which is the better branch of the military, the Army or the Marines, pleaded not guilty Friday to deliberate homicide.

Appearing in Yellowstone County District Court by video from the county jail, William Earl Cunningham, 63, pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide with a weapons enhancement for allegedly using a knife to slash the throat of 40-year-old Nathaniel Horn on Aug. 2 in Laurel.

Following a prosecutor’s recommendation, District Judge Michael G. Moses set Cunningham’s bond at $500,000. If Cunningham posts bond, the judge ordered him to wear a GPS monitor.

Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist based her recommendations on the nature of the charge and Cunningham’s extensive criminal history.

“The allegations are the defendant and victim were drinking and arguing over which branch of the military was better,” Rosenquist said. “The victim allegedly took a swing at the defendant and the defendant returned by allegedly slashing the victim’s throat, causing his death.”

Cunningham’s criminal history includes felony convictions dating back to the 1970s in California, twice for assault with a deadly weapon and for felon in possession of a firearm, DUI and willful child cruelty, the prosecutor said, adding that Cunningham also has local felony convictions for drug possession and forgery.

Assistant Public Defender Edward Werner argued for a bond of $250,000, saying that would be a substantial but reasonable amount and still probably more than Cunningham could afford.

“He’s lived in Laurel a number of years. He’s a disabled veteran,” Werner added.

Charging documents say Cunningham, who said he served in the Army, gave police a breath sample at about 1:25 a.m. on Aug. 3 — less than two hours after officers responded to the killing — that registered an alcohol concentration of .217 percent.

Laurel police responded at 11:48 p.m., Aug. 2 to 705 E. First St. in Laurel after a caller, identified as Lena Heller, said a man’s throat had been slashed, court records say.

An officer reported finding Horn on his back on the ground with his 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 several inches long across his throat.

Using a towel, court records say, the officer applied pressure to Horn’s neck wound. Cunningham, who was standing nearby, reportedly said, “He’s dead.”

Horn was pronounced dead a short time later.

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.

“Then I cut him … I did what the Army taught me to do,” Cunningham told the officer.

When asked about the weapon used, Cunningham pointed to a bloody 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 3½-inch blade, was silver in color and had imitation wood inlays in its handle.

Heller, the woman who reported the slashing, 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 an Aug. 3 statement to a detective, Cunningham said he and Horn had argued on the evening of Aug. 1 because Horn had been a Marine and he, Cunningham, had been in the Army.

Cunningham said they argued and that Horn apologized the morning of Aug. 2. 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.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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