DECATUR — When Marvin E. Perry was shot to death in August, the bullet also killed the state’s murder case against Demariel Cunningham, who was awaiting trial for the shooting death of a 19-year-old man in summer 2011.
Perry, 22, was the only eyewitness to the shooting death of Marvin A. Dickerson, which occurred on the city’s near-northside Aug. 22, 2011.
However, Cunningham, 33, is still facing up to 30 years in prison in connection with several pending felony cases, including one from 2011 in which he is charged with dealing heroin and cocaine.
The shooting of Perry, which law enforcement officials believe was unrelated to his role as witness in the prior murder case, led to the dismissal of four counts of first-degree murder against Cunningham.
If the murder of Perry could have been connected to the Dickerson slaying, prosecutors would have been allowed to introduce statements made by Perry at his trial.
But Perry’s death was believed to be the result of an argument between Perry and Joshua A. Jones, a 25-year-old parolee. The two men did not have any longstanding feud and possibly did not even know each other’s names, police and prosecutors have said. Jones, who has become the subject of controversy because of his early release from prison as part of a state government program, is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Cunningham’s co-defendant, Corey Q. Freeman, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Dec. 13, and is serving a 15-year prison sentence. Prosecutors had a stronger case against Freeman, but the offer was made because it was not a certainty that prosecutors would have obtained a conviction if the case had gone to trial.
“We had a couple of other witnesses against him, so we could have proceeded against him,” said Macon County First Assistant State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke.
Cunningham remains in the Macon County Jail on $145,000 bond in connection with three other felony cases.
In a 2011 case, he is charged with four counts of dealing narcotics for selling heroin and cocaine with prior drug dealing convictions, as well as unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. If convicted of one of the narcotics counts, he could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Cunningham has also been charged with aggravated battery and domestic battery, with a prior conviction for that offense, for punching a pregnant woman in the head in 2011. His third pending case is for aggravated fleeing from police in 2010.
He also has been charged with two probation violations stemming from two 2009 felony convictions. If convicted of the probation violations, he could be sentenced with four to 15 years in prison.
Before moving from Detroit to Decatur, Cunningham had convictions in Michigan for possession of a concealed handgun, domestic battery and assault.
Cunningham has been in jail since his arrest Sept. 13, 2011. Police alleged that he shot at Dickerson on Aug. 22 with an AK-47 assault rifle, while Freeman shot at him with a .40-caliber handgun, on Union Street, just south of Garfield Avenue. Dickerson was shot in the back and died at Decatur Memorial Hospital.
The Cunninghams and Dickersons were involved in a feud that also resulted in the death of a 17-year-old female, Mishyra Wheeler, which occurred 12 days later.
On Sept. 3, Wheeler was shot multiple times as she stood in front of a house in the 1500 block of North Church Street. Roderick D. Dickerson, 30, and Dennis E. Davis, 39, both cousins of Marvin Dickerson, are awaiting trial for first-degree murder in that case. Cunningham was the apparent target of that incident in which three other people were seriously injured by gunfire.
But the murders associated with the Cunninghams are not restricted to their feud with the Dickersons.
Cunningham’s younger brother, Demarta Cunningham, 29, is awaiting trial for first-degree murder, for allegedly shooting to death his 34-year-old cousin, Freedom Cunningham, and Freedom’s wife, 25-year-old Central Cunningham, over a drug debt. The gangland-style shooting occurred April 7, 2012, in the Wabash Crossing neighborhood.
A prosecution witness in that case, 21-year-old Isaiah O. Wiley, was shot to death Dec. 9, allegedly by an associate of Demarta Cunningham. After an intensive police investigation, Rickie Kendricks, 26, was charged with first-degree murder in that case. He is being held in Macon County Jail without bond, pending his trial.
Demarta Cunningham was convicted by a jury July 3 of tampering with a witness, for trying to persuade Wiley to change his testimony by offering him cash. He is serving a four-year, six-month term in the Department of Corrections, while awaiting his murder trial.
Wiley’s statements to police are expected to be used in Demarta Cunningham’s upcoming trial.
Police officers have said the Cunningham brothers are the worst criminals they have ever seen in Decatur.