Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Suspect in homicide case bound over for trial

  • A Dodge City man will be tried on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of a 3-year-old who was left in his care in 2008. Ford County District Judge Van Z. Hampton decided to proceed to trial Tuesday after a full day of testimony and arguments in the preliminary hearing of Brock Cunningham.The he...
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  • A Dodge City man will be tried on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of a 3-year-old who was left in his care in 2008. Ford County District Judge Van Z. Hampton decided to proceed to trial Tuesday after a full day of testimony and arguments in the preliminary hearing of Brock Cunningham. The hearing centered on events of the evening of Nov. 19, 2008, when 3-year-old Natalie Pickle was at home in the care of her mother’s boyfriend, Cunningham. In a recorded statement to police at the time, Cunningham said he heard a big thud from the bedroom where Natalie was playing. When Cunningham entered the bedroom, he found her laying on the floor, on her back and unresponsive. After a brief stay at Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City, Pickle was transported to a hospital in Wichita where she was pronounced dead the following day. The preliminary hearing that was originally scheduled for May 28, following Cunningham’s December arrest, was delayed to give Cunningham’s Wichita lawyer, Dan Monnat, more time to prepare for the case. Testimony that contributed to Judge Hampton’s decision came from Dr. Kerri Weeks and forensic pathologist Dr. Erik Mitchell who both agreed the severity of Pickle’s injury could only be caused by extreme force to the head. According to Dr. Weeks, a CT scan showed Pickle suffered a subdural hemorrhage, bleeding and broken blood vessels in the brain, and deep swelling in the brain, levels of trauma that do not coincide with a child falling from a bed. “These type of injuries are not caused by short falls or minor trauma,” Dr. Weeks said. “The injuries are characteristic of abusive head trauma.” In Dr. Week’s medical opinion, the injuries Pickle sustained most commonly coincide with the common mechanism-rotational, where a child’s head is accelerating and decelerating in whiplash-type motion. That type of motion would specifically cause Pickle’s type of bleeding and swelling. Other potential mechanisms could be shaking of the child but could also be a slam, where a child is taken and slammed against a hard object or wall. “When there is impact to the head, we can see there is impact involved,” she said. “In this case, the autopsy shows that.” Dr. Mitchell autopsy finding were parallel to Dr. Week’s findings. As a pathologist, Dr. Mitchell’s practice is to examine the body externally and internally. Photographs supporting Dr. Mitchell’s finding were admitted as exhibits 2 through 10 in the preliminary hearing. Upon examining Pickle’s scalp and skull, Dr. Mitchell said multiple bruises were present on the scalp.Although it was not possible to identify the exact date of the bruises, the frontal bruises on the scalp ere the most recent compared with other bruises found. Dr. Mitchell said the bruising pattern was most significant to him. A specific area was surrounded by bruises, suggesting the child had hit an object repeatedly in the same manner. Other significant findings according to Dr. Mitchell, were Pickle’s retinas. “You can see the retina is very dark and filled with blood,” He said. “It is evident that there has been direct/indirect injury. Some believe that’s a direct result of a rotation injury but there are cases where there are those findings and it’s not an inflicted injury.” However, the injury to the retina cannot be excluded as a secondary affect, an injury caused by trauma to the head in Pickle’s case. Both Dr. Weeks and Dr. Mitchell confirmed Pickle’s injuries as being immediately symptomatic, thus eliminating the theory of bruising being ‘aged’ as a possibility. Both specialists agreed that a traumatic injury had to have occurred in the time frame of when Pickle allegedly fell from her bed. In an audio recording of an interview with Wichita detectives, courtroom spectators listened to Cunningham’s recollection of events the evening he found Pickle unconscious. Cunningham told Wichita detectives he picked up Pickle and his other daughter at approximately 5:30 p.m. that afternoon from his mother’s place of business where the girls were, a routine not unusual for Cunningham and his mother who cared for both girls frequently. Cunningham then states upon arriving home he served dinner but Natalie was not hungry so he asked her to go into her room and change into pajamas, in doing so, Cunningham said he then heard Pickle jumping on the bed but had no reason to be alarmed until he heard a loud thud. “I thought she was dazed at first,” A distraught Cunningham is recorded saying. “I picked her up and her body was limp, I picked her up and put her on the bed and tried to wake her up, I said, ‘Natalie wake up!’” Cunningham said he then carried her limp body to the kitchen then to the living room before calling 911 and trying to revive her by following instructions given to him over the phone. According to Cunningham’s lawyer, during the time of the interview Cunningham was aware that Pickle was in critical condition but only later learned of her death. “I would never hurt Natalie, I would never harm my kids,” Cunningham said to detectives. “She loved me and I loved her.” Defense attorney Dan Monnat in a closing statement said the case was more of a ‘burden shift’ andclaimed there is insufficient evidence to prove probable cause against his client. Cunningham, Monnat said, is only guilty of not being able to explain what caused Pickle’s injury. Trial date will be set later. Cunningham is currently free on a $75,000 bond. By laws Cunningham is considered innocent until proven guilty.
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