Trauma aide slew mother, records show Man accused in theft from wounded officer was felon, parolee

'We weren't aware'

Hospital officials fault state supervisor for recommendation

October 02, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

*TC A former Maryland Shock Trauma nursing aide accused of using his job to steal credit information from a critically wounded police officer is a parolee whose criminal past includes convictions for killing his mother, assault with intent to murder and forgery, court records show.

Hospital officials said they were shocked to learn of the seriousness of John Wayne Cunningham's crimes and criticized a state work-release supervisor for recommending him for the job.

"We had relied on [the supervisor's] judgment. Mr. Cunningham was strongly recommended to us," said trauma center spokeswoman Joan S. Shnipper. "We were told he had been convicted of drug offenses. We weren't aware of the other things."

Hospital administrators said they would not have hired Mr. Cunningham had they known he had a violent history.

In March 1975, Mr. Cunningham was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter for killing his mother, 50-year-old Augustine Cunningham. She was stabbed three times in bed at her home in the 2800 block of Seamon Ave. After the killing, he stole $10 from her wallet.

When Mr. Cunningham was hired at the hospital in August 1993, he was on parole for a 1983 charge of assault with intent to murder, a weapons violation, and larceny, according to state correctional officials, who are investigating the hospital's complaints.

Mr. Cunningham, 43, was arrested Wednesday by the U.S. Secret Service and charged in a credit-card scheme in which he is accused of stealing personal identification numbers belonging to James E. Beck, a Baltimore County police officer brought to Shock Trauma on Halloween 1993. Officer Beck had been shot three times in the line of duty and nearly died in the hospital.

Somehow, Mr. Cunningham obtained Officer Beck's Social Security number, date of birth and address, according to federal investigators. He used those numbers to obtain credit cards in Officer Beck's name and charged between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of electronics equipment on the cards, they said.

"He either saw the numbers written down somewhere or on a computer. It's unclear how he obtained them," Ms. Shnipper said.

The officer spent nearly two months at the hospital, during which doctors gave him a slim chance for recovery. He retired from the force shortly after he returned home. He couldn't be reached yesterday.

Shock Trauma officials said Mr. Cunningham of the 800 block of N. Charles St. had good work references from two other area hospitals and appeared to be an energetic worker. The hospital, one of the area's largest employers, has hired work-release inmates in the past, Ms. Shnipper said.

Mr. Cunningham's job mainly was to assist nurses in menial everyday duties, such as changing bedsheets. He resigned in April 1994 for reasons that the hospital won't disclose.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said an investigation is under way to determine whether correctional policies were violated.

He added, however, that the work release supervisor who recommended Mr. Cunningham was not allowed to discuss the applicant's full criminal history with the hospital.

"A criminal history is protected under Maryland law. By law, we can only tell what a person is currently being supervised for," Mr. Sipes said.

Certain employers -- including hospitals -- have authorization to obtain full criminal histories of potential employees in "sensitive positions," Mr. Sipes said. But that information is only available through a formal application.

"We always encourage employers who are hiring employees for sensitive positions to conduct a full criminal history check," he said.

Mr. Cunningham is at the Baltimore City Detention Center in lieu of $50,000 bond. He is charged with numerous counts of filing false credit card applications.

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