Trial In Christmas '95 Killing Of Overlea Woman Reopens Wounds For Family Haunted By Crime

April 29, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Evelyn J. Cunningham died a grisly death two weeks before Christmas 1995 at her home on a quiet street in Overlea graced with new decorative flags and old azalea bushes.

This week, Donald W. Jones -- her next-door neighbor -- goes on trial in an Annapolis courtroom for the 63-year-old woman's killing and rape, in a case in which Baltimore County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Jones, of the 400 block of Old Home Road in Overlea, was charged in July in Cunningham's death after DNA evidence from the scene matched that of a blood sample taken from Jones in a previous, unrelated case, according to police.

Members of Cunningham's family worry that Jones' trial will turn the perennially friendly Evelyn Cunningham into a faceless victim.

"She was outgoing, there was never not a smile on her face, and she was never depressed over anything," said Cindy Cunningham, who is married to Evelyn Cunningham's younger son, David.

David Cunningham says he wants his mother to be remembered for how she lived, not how she died.

"I don't want my mom to be just another case number. She was a great person who affected many lives. She was loved by many people," he said.

At the request of defense attorneys, Judge John F. Fader II moved the case to Anne Arundel County out of concern that publicity might make it hard to choose an impartial jury in Baltimore County. Jury selection is to begin tomorrow in Circuit Court.

Police say Cunningham was killed by someone who got into her home without force, that she appeared to put up a struggle against her attacker but died after being raped and stabbed several times.

Seven months later, police arrested Jones, 25, after matching DNA from semen taken from Cunningham's body with a blood sample from Jones, who had lived with his parents in a house attached to Cunningham's home.

The blood sample had been taken years before the killing in an unrelated investigation, according to police.

Cunningham's family said police told them Jones' blood had been drawn 10 years ago when Laura Lynn Byrd, 13, who had lived on the same block, was found slain near Belmar Park.

Last week, police refused to say whether Jones is a suspect in the unsolved Byrd killing.

Jones has a criminal history that began at age 18 when he tried to block a police officer from arresting a friend outside a Dundalk bar, according to court records.

By the time he was charged in Cunningham's slaying, Jones had been convicted of drug distribution and housebreaking. He had been released from prison two weeks before Cunningham's slaying after serving less than half of a four-year sentence in the housebreaking case.

Jones' lawyer, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, said his client "has had some exposure to the criminal justice system but nothing in his background that is remotely similar to a crime of violence or sexual assault."

Prosecutor Jason League declined to comment on the case.

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office is known for seeking the death penalty more often than other metropolitan jurisdictions, said Deputy State's Attorney Sue Schenning.

The trial will be watched closely by Cunningham's two sons, Charles Jr., 43, and David, 32, who, along with a neighbor, found his mother's body.

A longtime working woman whose favorite job was baby-sitting her grandchildren, Evelyn Cunningham was employed at Home Depot as a cashier supervisor.

She also had worked for 30 years as a telephone operator, starting when she was 16. She also worked for 10 years at a Baltimore advertising agency as a secretary.

The family remains haunted by the killing and say they know little about what happened the day Cunningham died.

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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