Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: January 3, 2002
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: August 13, 1972
Victim profile: Leneshia Williams, 17, and Jala Grant, 3
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Allen County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 2003

Supreme Court of Ohio

The State of Ohio v. Cuningham

On January 3, 2002, Cunningham and his half-brother, Cleveland Jackson, murdered 3-year-old Jala Grant and 17-year-old Leneshia Williams at a home in Lima.

Jala, Leneshia, and six other people were at the house of a man, whom Cunningham and Jackson planned to rob of his crack cocaine and money. After stealing drugs, money, and jewelry, Cunningham and Jackson opened fire on everyone in the house, fatally shooting Jala twice in the head as her father held her in his arms and fatally shooting Leneshia in the back of the head.

Cunningham and Jackson were also convicted for the attempted murders of the survivors each of whom suffered gunshot injuries. Jackson also received a death sentence


Jeronique Cunningham

January 2003 executions

A jury convicted one of two brothers accused of fatally shooting a 3-year-old girl and a teen-ager during a robbery that left six others wounded.

Jeronique Cunningham, 29 at the time, was sentenced to death in the shootings that prosecutors said happened while he and his brother were stealing drugs and money from one of the survivors.

Vicki Williams hugged her 12-year-old son after Cunningham was convicted of killing her daughter, 17-year-old Leneshia Williams. "I hope he receives the death penalty," she said. "It won't bring Leneshia back but they deserve it."

Cunningham and Cleveland Jackson, both of Lima, were arrested two days after the shootings Jan. 3, 2002. The brothers knew some of the victims, were invited inside their apartment and even watched television together before herding the group into a kitchen and shooting them one-by-one, prosecutors said.

Six were shot in the head, including Leneshia Williams and 3-year-old Jala Grant, who also died. One of the survivors who was shot in the head was in a coma for 40 days while the others weren't as seriously injured. Some were just grazed by the bullets.

Defense attorneys did not dispute that Cunningham was at the apartment. But they said Cunningham had no intention of robbing his friends and put the blame on his younger brother. Cunningham never fired a gun he had with him, defense attorney Robert Grzybowski said. "There was no plan or purpose on the part of Jeronique Cunningham to cause the death of anyone," he said. "Cleveland Jackson had a purpose and plan."

During the trial, five victims testified they saw Cunningham shoot. "He shot me. I blanked out. When I woke up, I saw a bloody mess," said Coron Liles who was shot in the mouth. Prosecutors said Cunningham forced the victims into a kitchen and hit one in the jaw with his gun before making them line up against a wall. "This is absolutely the most cold-blooded, calculated, inhumane murder anyone could imagined," Prosecutor David Bowers said.

Several of the victims were related to each other, and the others were friends from Lima, which is about 70 miles south of Toledo. Layshane Liles, who lived in the apartment, had sold drugs to Cunningham earlier in the day and played video games there, prosecutors said. Cunningham and his brother then decided to return to rob Layshane Liles, prosecutors said.  *Appeals are still pending in this case and the execution is not expected to take place on this date.


Lima Killer’s Death Sentence Affirmed

2002-1377. State v. Cunningham, 2004-Ohio-7007

Dec. 29, 2004

In a 7-0 decision announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the aggravated murder convictions and death sentence of Jeronique Cunningham of Lima for his role in the January 2002 shootings of four adults, three teenagers and a 3-year-old during a drug-related robbery. Seventeen-year-old Leneshia Williams and the 3-year-old, Jala Grant, were killed and several other victims suffered severe injuries when Cunningham and his half-brother, Cleveland Jackson Jr., emptied their guns into the victims, who were huddled together on the floor.

Writing for the Court, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer overruled or held as non-prejudicial all 14 assignments of error advanced by Cunningham's attorneys in asking the Supreme Court to reverse his convictions or reduce his sentence.

According to testimony at Cunningham's trial, he and Jackson both armed themselves and went to the home of Shane Liles, an acquaintance from whom they had purchased crack cocaine earlier the same day. While Jackson took Liles aside to discuss a purported drug purchase, Cunningham pulled a gun and herded the other seven victims into a small kitchen where he forced them to sit on the floor against a wall and demanded their money and jewelry.

After Jackson robbed Liles of a small amount of drugs and four or five hundred dollars in cash, Liles denied having any other drugs or money in the house. Jackson brought Liles into the kitchen with the others and, when Liles again denied having any more money, shot him in the back. The two robbers then emptied their guns into the seven remaining victims, killing Grant and Williams and severely wounding most of the others. One of the wounded lost her left eye, another lost the use of his right arm and a third suffered profound brain damage and was in a coma for 47 days.

The survivors identified Cunningham and Jackson as their assailants and they were arrested shortly thereafter. In June 2002, an Allen County Common Pleas Court jury convicted Cunningham of two counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications. He was also convicted of aggravated robbery and six counts of attempted aggravated murder. After hearing aggravating and mitigating evidence during the penalty phase, the jury recommended and the court imposed a sentence of death.

Among the allegations of error denied in today's decision, Justice Pfeifer rejected claims that Cunningham was denied a fair trial when the judge denied a motion for change of venue despite extensive pretrial publicity in Lima-area news media, allowed jurors to be shown multiple gruesome photos of the victims and crime scene, and allowed defense lawyers to compare the in -court testimony of some, but not all of the prosecution witnesses against their pretrial statements to determine if there were inconsistencies that could be attacked on cross-examination.

Citing case law that has held “(a) careful and searching voir dire” (questioning of prospective jurors) to be the best way of determining whether a fair and impartial jury can be empanelled, Justice Pfeifer wrote that “Here, the trial court conducted an extensive voir dire that covered four days and nearly 900 pages of transcript … After a thorough general voir dire with counsel for both sides participating, the trial court conducted a sequestered voir dire during which the prospective jurors were individually questioned regarding the death penalty and exposure to pretrial publicity.”

While most prospective jurors acknowledged hearing something about the case through the media, Justice Pfeifer noted that most also said they had not formed an opinion about Cunningham's guilt and could presume him innocent. Since the trial judge readily excused those who said they had formed fixed opinions or were otherwise unsuitable to serve, and since Cunningham's attorneys failed to challenge any of the jurors seated in the case despite not having used all of their peremptory challenges, Justice Pfeifer concluded that the defense “failed to show that ‘the publicity in this case was so pervasive that it impaired the ability of the impaneled jurors to deliberate fairly and impartially.'

With regard to review of witness statements, Justice Pfeifer wrote that the trial court's failure to provide defense counsel with copies of three of six prosecution witnesses' pretrial statements for direct review may have been incorrect, but did not rise to the level of reversible error. He based that ruling partially on the fact that the witness accounts in question (contained in police incident reports) were not direct statements signed or affirmed by the actual witness, but rather were investigating police officers' notes summarizing what an officer understood a witness to have said. In the Court's 1984 decision in State v. Jenkins , he wrote, “we specifically excluded from discovery … portions of a police officer's report, including statements from other witnesses contained therein.”

Even if the incident reports did constitute “statements” subject to review by defense counsel, Justice Pfeifer added, Cunningham's attorneys waived all but “plain error” because they failed to object when the trial judge provided only the three witness statements in which the judge found possible inconsistencies. “There was no plain error,” wrote Justice Pfeifer. “Defense counsel and the prosecutor were present while the trial court reviewed the statements … (O)nce the trial court concluded that there were no inconsistencies between the statements and trial testimony of Goodloe, Coron Liles and Tomeaka Grant, defense counsel did not request to review the statements or object to the procedure employed by the court … Under somewhat similar circumstances in Jenkins, we said that ‘a defendant cannot be heard to complain on appeal about a matter which the trial judge could have remedied if the defense had complained then.'"



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