Ellsworth standoff suspect wavies hearing, new charges added

February 28, 2014
Joe Cunningham

An Ellsworth man accused of keeping police at bay for about 19 hours and briefly taking his teenage stepdaughter hostage now faces additional charges.

Joe Carl Cunningham, 48, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Friday before District Judge Curtis Thompson and will stand trial. In addition to charges relating to the Feb. 14 standoff, which include burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, simple assault, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, Cunningham now faces several sex charges.

On Friday, Cunningham was arraigned on several counts each of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault and indecent assault of a person less than 16 years of age, as well as corruption of minors and using photograph, film, or a computer to depict sex involving a child.

Cunningham is accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl on several occasions dating back to Feb. 1, 2013, according to court documents. Cunningham is also accused of using his phone to photograph and videotape the girl at several stages of undress, the affidavit said.

Washington County Assistant District Attorney Kristin Clingerman said the sex charges were in the works prior to the Feb. 14 standoff.

Cunningham surrendered to police after keeping them at bay for 19 hours at the 36 Oak St. home that he and his wife of 13 years, Crystal Cunningham, once shared. Clingerman said it is still unclear at this point what caused the standoff. Crystal Cunningham filed, and was granted, a temporary protection-from-abuse order that same day. The PFA protected Crystal Cunningham and her three children from Joe Cunningham.

In the wake of the standoff, Crystal Cunningham’s boyfriend, Jason Anderson, told police Cunningham was upset because he was no longer allowed to see his children. Joe and Crystal Cunningham have two younger children together, in addition to his teenage stepdaughter.

In her PFA request, Crystal Cunningham cited instances of verbal and physical abuse, and asked that Joe Cunningham be excluded from the 36 Oak St. home they rented together nearly four years ago and that he have no contact with her.

Court documents indicated Cunningham had not lived at the home since July and was not permitted to be inside.

Cunningham remains in the Washington County jail on a combined bond of $500,000.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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