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Jury mulls 'poisoning,' child
cruelty case

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The jury in the soup-tampering case being tried in Clayton County Superior Court will continue deliberations this morning after they received the case late Wednesday afternoon.

Jurors will reconvene at 9 a.m., to deliberate whether defendant, William Cunningham, 44, placed hot peppers, lighter fluid, and prescription drugs in different varieties of Campbell's soup, and fed it to his two children, sending both to the hospital in January of 2006.

Cunningham, who lived in Stockbridge at the time of the alleged crimes, is charged with five counts of cruelty to children and two counts of aggravated assault. He is already serving a five-year sentence in the case after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of communicating false information -- that the Campbell's soup he fed his children had been factory-contaminated.

Prosecutors say the incidents happened on three occasions, and the third incident on Jan. 29, 2006, required Cunningham's 18-month-old daughter to be rushed by helicopter to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta, while her 3-year-old brother was stable enough to be transported by ground.

Before resting its case Wednesday, the prosecution tendered into evidence a videotaped interview of Cunningham being questioned by two Clayton County police detectives on Feb. 3, 2006.

During the taped interview, Cunningham appeared to begin crying as he talked to Clayton County Police Detective Kimberly Arnzen and Detective Taylor Davis, about the night his daughter was rushed to the children's hospital.

"My wife told me they put her on life support," Cunningham said. He began to sniffle and appeared to cry, "She was laying there helpless," he said.

Later in the interview, Cunnigham said: "It took me ... years to meet the right person and have kids. There's no way in the world I would hurt my kids." Then he, again, started to sniffle and broke into tears.

Also during the interview, Cunningham told the detectives he wanted to "find out what is [sickening the children] for their sake, and get them compensated for their pain."

Detective Davis asked Cunningham: "Is this any kind of get-rich scheme here?"

Cunningham responded: "I don't really care about how much money ... but if they want to make a settlement, I'll make a settlement."

Cunningham also told the detectives he had written down the lot numbers of two of the cans of soup the children had eaten from prior to the incidents.

Davis responded: "The one thing that gives me some problems is the two cans you gave the [lot] numbers to are from two different [manufacturing] plants," said Davis. "There are no problems involving multiple plants when it's the company's fault," said Davis.

"We have three incidents, all at your home. It all starts when the children are alone with you. It's kind of all trickling down to you," Davis said.

After the state rested its case, Cunningham did not take the stand in his own defense. His attorney, Richard Genirberg, told Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons, "The defendant has selected not to testify in this trial ... and not because of instruction from council."

Genirberg also told the court he would not call any witnesses, and then rested his case.

During closing arguments, however, Genirberg told jurors the state's case was largely circumstantial. "It [evidence] may show that there's opportunity, but it doesn't prove that he did it," he said.

Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, during closing arguments, referred to a popular commercial. "Clap on tears, clap off tears," she said, referring to the tears Cunningham appeared to shed during the taped interview with police.

"He really thinks he's the sharpest tool in the box, and he's trying to fake everybody out," she said.

Graham Lawson placed two poster-size pictures of Cunningham's two children on easels in front of the jury. "These are the little babies that this man did that [poisoning] to," she said, asking the jury to find the defendant guilty of all charges.