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Ellsworth airman on trial for infant son’s death

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A military jury will decide whether a senior airman at Ellsworth Air Force Base is responsible for the death of his 6-month-old son.

Prosecutors said James Cunningham inflicted the injuries by shaking and punching Zachariah in March of last year.

Capt. Anna Sturges, during opening statements Thursday, said Cunningham, when he spoke to detectives, told four different versions of what happened to his son.

Sturges says a doctor will testify that the autopsy shows Zachariah didn’t just have a brain bleed from blunt-force trauma but also suffered from eye and spinal injuries after being shaken.

Defense attorney Capt. Kaylee Gum told the jury of eight airmen that Cunningham set the baby on the counter for a “split second” so he could grab the baby’s bottle and the child fell to the floor.

Gum says medical evidence will show that Zachariah’s injuries are “consistent with a fall” from a counter to a hardwood floor. She did not specifically explain how the shaking symptoms would be accounted for, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The child’s mother, Caitlynn Merhoff, testified her ex-fiancee was a caring and patient father with no history of aggression.

Unlike civilian courts, three-fourths of the jurors must believe the 26-year-old defendant is guilty of murder if he is to be convicted.

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