Outside jury to be selected for man’s trial

Tuesday, January 9, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:23 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Columbia man facing charges in connection with the beating death of Carlos Kelly last March will be tried in Boone County, but the jury will be selected from another county, Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton ruled Monday.

Hamilton granted a request for a change of venue after Rodney E. Cunningham’s attorney, Richard French, cited publicity surrounding the case.

“It’s going to be a big media event every time Cunningham appears in this court,” French said.

Hamilton asked French and Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Gorovsky to provide a list within five days of 10 counties where a jury could be chosen.

Cunningham, 30, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree attempted robbery in connection with Kelly’s slaying last March. Columbia police said Cunningham and two other Columbia men forced their way into Kelly’s Cynthia Drive apartment early on March 29. Police said Kelly, 34, and four other people, whom they have not named, were in the apartment. Travis Midgyett, 27, was carrying a handgun, police said, and handed it to a third man to free his hands so he could hit Kelly with a wooden board.

The third man then handed the gun to Cunningham, police said, hit one person in the back of the head with a flashlight and stabbed an 18-year-old man in the leg.

Police said the three men stole cash from Kelly and one other victim.

After a witness recanted in September, all charges against Felson Barney were dropped in connection with Kelly’s slaying. Midgyett is scheduled to stand trial in March.

In October, Cunningham pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree drug trafficking and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He has pleaded guilty to several other charges since 1993 in Boone County, including first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, third-degree assault and possession of a controlled substance.

Cunningham faces punishment up to and including the death penalty in connection with Kelly’s slaying.

Cunningham’s trial will be scheduled later this month.

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