Cundiff trial: Defendant convicted of eight felonies
By Lou Grieco | Friday, May 28, 2010, 05:14 PM
DAYTON — A jury convicted James Cundiff, the suspect in three attacks on women last year, of four counts of aggravated robbery and four counts of felonious assault Friday, May 28.
The jury did not convict of tampering with evidence, the final of the nine charges they deliberated on. Montgomery County Judge Michael T. Hall set sentencing for June 22.
The jury only considered charges involving two of the incidents: the Aug. 28 attack on Shannon George and the Oct. 1 stabbing of Mary Beth Bozarth, a Miami Valley Hospital nurse attacked as she left work. Cundiff is charged with two counts of felonious assault and two counts of aggravated robbery for each of those attacks, plus one count of tampering with evidence in connection with the Bozarth attack.
Bozarth fought back tears as the verdicts were read.
The jury did not hear any evidence concerning the third attack, the Sept. 29 assault of Lillian Klosterman, and that incident was never referenced in front of the jurors. Cundiff waived his right to a jury trial in those charges, so that evidence was presented only to Hall, who will render the verdict for those charges. Hall did not make that determination Friday.
Hall gave the case to the jury at 10:51 a.m. The jury broke for lunch, then deliberated until just before 5 p.m.
The trial started Tuesday. Bozarth testified Wednesday about her assault, which occurred in a parking lot near the corner of Main and Apple streets. Bozarth was stabbed in the neck, a blow that knocked her off her feet, and the attacker grabbed her purse and lunch bag.
George, who was homeless at the time, testified Thursday that she was behind a building on Main Street, across from the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, when her attacker pulled a knife on her and demanded money. She gave him the $40 she had in her front pockets, but the robber demanded to see if she had any in her back pockets. When he made her turn, she decided to run, and the attacker slashed her across her breast and her arm, she said.
During his closing argument, assistant county prosecutor Steve Knippen noted similarities in both attacks, which happened within a few blocks of each other. Both were also near “Tent City,” the homeless encampment where Cundiff was living at the time, Knippen said.
In both cases, the attacker wore dark clothing, approached women walking in parking lots at night, and was wearing hospital apparel. George’s attacker wore a surgical mask which covered his nose and mouth. Bozarth’s attacker wore green surgical gloves, Knippen said.
Within 90 minutes of Bozarth’s stabbing, police saw Cundiff near the fairgrounds and Cundriff fled, jumping two 6-foot privacy fences, Knippen said. Cundiff was wearing green surgical gloves, which he took off and threw away just as police caught him, Knippen said.
Two Dayton police officers testified that, as they arrested Cundiff, he denied robbing or stabbing anyone, even though they hadn’t told him why they apprehended him, Knippen said.
“That wasn’t coincidence,” Knippen said.
He also said that both Bozarth and George were certain that Cundiff was the man who attacked them.
Defense attorney Casey Daganhardt said both victims were wrong.
“The only issue in this case is identification of the perpetrator,” Daganhardt said.
George could not make a good identification because of the surgical mask, Daganhardt said. In Bozarth’s case, another witness said the attacker wore a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and tied tight so that his face was not visible, Daganhardt said.
“She is mistaken,” Daganhardt said. “I’m sorry the perpetrator can’t be identified by her, but that’s the way it is.”
Daganhardt called Cundiff’s statements to police “the ramblings of a scared and confused man.” He also said Cundiff told police why he was wearing the gloves: because he and another man were planning a burglary that night, but neighbors scared them off.
“There’s other latex gloves out there,” Daganhardt said.
Assistant county prosecutor Kimberly Melnick said that there was no doubt that Cundiff was the attacker of both women. Both identified him in court, and George quickly identified him in a photo lineup, recognizing his eyes, Melnick said.
Melnick also noted that Cundiff’s violence was escalating. In George’s case, he only attacked when she tried to run. In Bozarth’s he never gave her the chance, stabbing her before he said anything.
“This time, he wasn’t going to give her a chance to run away,” Melnick said. “This is a predator. This is someone out there, ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Cundiff was 17 when he was tried as an adult and convicted in Mahoning County in 1984 of rape, felonious assault and aggravated robbery charges, according to Dayton police. He was released in 2002 after serving 18 years and has to register every 90 days as a Tier III sex offender, reserved for the state’s most violent sexual predators.