Murder suspect's attorney claims her mentally disabled client is innocent
The public defender representing Lindale Cunningham said she is confident he did not commit the murder he is charged with.
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WDRB) -- The public defender representing Lindale Cunningham said she is confident he did not commit the murder he is charged with.
Cunningham is accused of stabbing 66-year-old Sally Berry, who was one of his caretakers in a group home on Bryan Street, on Jan. 3. The 32-year-old man lived there with two other patients. The facility is part of ResCare, a group that provides care for adults with developmental disabilities.
Jessica Schulte is the assistant public advocate in Hardin County and represents Cunningham.
“When I talk to Lindale, “when I see Lindale, it’s like talking to a child," Schulte said. "Even though Lindale and I are roughly the same age.”
She said her client has an IQ of about 50, putting him on the intellectual level of a 5- to 8-year-old child. His favorite thing to do is color, which jail officials have allowed him to do in his cell and in court.
"It made it less of a stressful experience for him,” Schulte said. “His mom brought him coloring books and markers to court. And the bailiffs, who work for the sheriff's office, let him sit and color. They took his handcuffs off to let him color."
Schulte said her other clients understand when she asks a question about why they were charged or why they were in jail. Cunningham can’t tell her what happened, she said.
Schulte also explained Cunningham has a condition called echolalia, which means he repeats what is said to him.
Deputies with the Hardin County Sheriff’s Department say Cunningham confessed to stabbing Berry.
“I'm very curious,” Schulte said. “And I obviously asked at the preliminary hearing, ‘Who used the word stabbed first?’ I want to know how that question was posed to him. And then what was his response? And I don't have the answer to that yet.
"But ... because of his repeating and his repetitive speech, I think that draws real doubts about the validity or ... the evidentiary value of any confession."
The lead investigator with the department also told the judge in a preliminary hearing on Jan. 9 that Cunningham led deputies to where the murder weapon, a kitchen knife, was found in a kitchen drawer.
“One of Lindale’s jobs in the home was to put dishes away,” Schulte said. “I think if you asked anyone with Lindale’s functioning or any 5 or 6 year old, ‘Where’s the knife?’ They would walk you into the kitchen, because that’s where knives go.”
The sheriff’s department’s lead investigator on the case said, according to the coroner’s initial report, Berry was stabbed 139 times. In the hearing, the investigator said there was a blood smear from where Berry was stabbed to where her body was found, behind a recliner in the living room. Deputies believe Berry was stabbed near the door frame of another resident’s room, which is across the hall from Cunningham’s bedroom, because of how much blood was found there.
“I don’t think the fact that he’s disabled means that he didn’t commit this crime,” Schulte said of her client. “I think the fact that all of the forensic evidence shows that he couldn’t have possibly committed the crime is why I believe he’s innocent.”
A judge granted orders to preserve more potential evidence from the home. That includes bloody clothing from the washing machine and other DNA evidence form the scene. A Batman rug, Batman lamp, bloody quarter round from the hallway, bloody papers and coloring books were all located in another resident’s room and collected.
“The evidence that we were most concerned about being preserved was bloody clothing,” Schulte said. “And that bloody clothing did not belong to Lindale. So the fact that there was bloody clothing belonging to another individual, not Lindale, is incredibly important. That’s exculpatory evidence.”
Cunningham has an alleged history of violence. In 2014, he was accused of threatening to kill people and chasing a worker with a knife in the same home. He was initially charged with wanton endangerment, criminal mischief and terroristic threatening. Those charges were dropped by the Hardin County prosecutor’s office, which has not responded to multiple attempts for comment.
“I don't think that it does have any relevance in this case,” Schulte said of the dropped charges. “I could see how at the beginning of an investigation it would be something to take into consideration, but based on our investigation, it really has nothing to do."
Schulte said she believes those charges were dismissed because of her disabilities, but that was not one of her cases.
Cunningham is still one of ResCare’s clients, and the company is responsible for him. Schulte said if he is released from jail, ResCare is working to find another place for him to live.
It is Schulte’s job to defend her client, as he is innocent until proven guilty. And she said she understands people might think she is just saying Cunningham is not guilty because she has to.
“At the end of a trial, if you win a trial, you get a ‘not guilty’ verdict," Schulte said. "You don’t get an ‘innocent’ verdict. I’m not sitting here saying Lindale Cunningham is not guilty. I’m saying that Lindale Cunningham is innocent of this crime.”
The judge determined on Jan. 9 there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. As of Wednesday, it has not been presented yet.
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