21, 2006 Fort Worth
When this thing is all over, would you put in a good word with Mr. Levy to let me have that skull?"
Kevin Rotenberry's attorney, Leonard Schilling, to a courtroom
baliff, prior to the trial convening on Tuesday morning...
|Schilling was referring to the skeletal remains of the deceased, Patrick M. Cunningham. Alan Levy, District Attorney, and Chief of the Criminal Division, who standing nearby, was NOT amused.
Kevin did clean up especially nice for court, in a sharp tan suit and tie. He had a new, knock-down gorgeous young wife with an 8-day old baby son in the hall there supporting him, and inside the courtroom, about 8 other Rotenberry family members. Even the ongoing soap opera of his sister, Krystal and Bobby D. Steele appeared to be going well and lovey-dovey.
In opening remarks, the Prosecution detailed the timeline of events in the case and what evidence would be presented about what Kevin Rotenberry had concealed for eight years.
The defense, led by Michael Ware, related how Pat Cunningham "beat the tar out of Peggy, but the DA never did anything about it-he broke her wrist in June of 1996, and no charges were filed again". Ware told the jury that contrary to the two Tampering With Physical Evidence charges, Kevin did not conceal where the body was-he revealed it to the authorities on March 31, 2003-an important distinction in the mind of the Defense.
After opening remarks concluded, E. Christy Jack, major gunslinger in the District Attorney's office, began the Prosecution's case by calling Texas Ranger Keith Denning to the stand, who had written the original Search Warrant. Later Mike De La Flor, Criminal Investigator for the DA, and Detective David Martz of Colleyville, would also individually testify to relate how the investigation came together, on the day the remains were disinterred from a septic tank hidden in the back yard of the Rotenberry family home.
Armed with the Search Warrant on the morning of March 31, 2003, the team of Denning, his partner Brad Harmon, De La Flor, and Colleyville Detectives David Martz and Hillary Wreay met to discuss how best to proceed. The City of Colleyville had a backhoe on standby and the Medical Examiner and FBI Evidence Response Team were also ready to be called in.
It was decided at that meeting to first call Kevin Rotenberry at home and see if he would come over to the Colleyville Justice Center to talk to Detective Martz about the disappearance of Patrick Cunningham. Detective Martz had established a previous rapport with Kevin, so he was the one who called him about 7:30 AM, and asked him to please come in and discuss something with him in person. Kevin was there in about 15 minutes, met Det. Martz and went to the interview room with him and Det. Wreay.
The interview room was equipped with a two-way mirror. Kevin was asked over the course of an hour about Patrick Cunningham being a missing person; if he knew anything about where Cunningham might be. Kevin denied any knowledge of his whereabouts several times, claimed he had not seen Cunningham since the "90's when he abandoned Grandma" and suggested that Patrick "was probably in Florida." Rotenberry was not under arrest at that time and was therefore not "Mirandized", but he was not told he was being viewed by Denning and De La Flor behind the mirror, or that he was being videotaped. Kevin said he had to leave, after about an hour with Detectives, because he had to go to work later on.
The law enforcement group met quickly, took two marked patrol units as well as their own respective vehicles and arrived at the Rotenberry home at 700 Colleyville Terrace within 15 minutes of Kevin's departure from the Justice Center.
Sgt. Denning knocked on the front door and told Kevin through the door that they had a Search Warrant for the premises. Kevin said the front door didn't open and to meet him on the west side of the house. After showing him the Search Warrant and Denning telling Kevin that the backhoe was on standby to dig up the backyard, Kevin told the men there was no need for that, he would show them where the body was in the backyard, buried in a septic tank. He also agreed to go back to the police station with Mike De La Flor and other law enforcement officials and tell them his version of the story.
The backhoe was called off, and Medical Examiner Dr. Dana Austin and FBI Evidence Response team leader, Ann Hinkle, were summoned to the residence.
At that second interview at the Justice Center, Kevin Rotenberry was Mirandized and waiving those rights, told a story to Detectives about how, in August, 1996, his since deceased grandmother, Peggy Cunningham, had come to him "scared", and said she had killed her husband, Patrick.
Kevin said he went to the home Patrick and Peggy Cunningham shared on 3514 Lulu Street in Fort Worth and found Cunningham laying on a couch with no pulse. Kevin related that Grandma had told him she had both poisoned and smothered her husband. She told Kevin to put the body in the old septic tank in the backyard of her old house on 700 Colleyville Terrace, where Kevin was then living with his parents and sisters.
Rotenberry related how he waited until dark, put Patrick's body in the trunk of the car, and went to the family home in Colleyville. In the backyard, he said he dug down to where the top of the septic tank lid was, pulled it up single handed, and put Cunningham's body inside. Kevin cleaned up the dirt around the area and watered, "so Mom did not know."
Kevin signed a handwritten sworn statement to this, which was introduced into evidence.
Dr. Dana Austin and Dr. Mark Kraus from the Tarrant County Medical Examiners Office also testified about the results of the crime scene extraction of Patrick Cunningham's skeletal remains and other almost non-existent evidence surrounding his demise. Due to the length of time the body was in the murky muck of the septic tank, there was no soft tissue left to indicate a cause of death, and there were no marks from either a knife or gunshot on any of the bones.
Dr. Austin testified that Patrick Cunningham's wedding ring was still on the bone of his ring finger when he was brought out. Besides his bones, she testified there was a smattering of clothing, a pack of Wrigleys spearmint gum, some cigarette butts, 14 coins with the latest date being 1994, a tube of Groom 'N Clean hair creme, and no wallet whatsoever.
Dr. Kraus verified that through DNA tests conducted at the UNT Health Sciences Lab, a molar from the remains, with a swab from Patrick Cunningham's son, Kenneth, it was established conclusively that the skeleton was, indeed, all that was left of Patrick Martin Cunningham.
Also testifying, entering the courtroom dressed in an olive-drab prison jumpsuit, was the chief tipster against Kevin Rotenberry, his cousin Dustin Tubbleville (son of Dudley Tubbleville, brother to Anita Rotenberry). And as personable as Kevin looked and acted in the presence of others, Dustin was a mess. He had the furtive, defeated look that two years in the pen will put on a guy, and was every bit as articulate. He testified that he really never believed that Kevin had "killed the only Grandpa I ever knew," but that he did think Grandma did; she surely did, "I believe my Grandmother killed him."
In October of 2003, Dustin said he had been incarcerated in the Southlake jail and was about to do some real time, when he asked to speak with Detective Hillary Wreay in Colleyville. He had some information about a crime; a murder. That he wanted to "get home to see my son" and perhaps parlay that information into making it happen.
He admitted on the stand that Detective Wreay told him that was not up to her; only the DA could do that, and thus, Dustin felt betrayed "somewhat" by Detective Wreay later when nothing happened beneficial to his sentence. Adding to that burden, Dustin's extended family had quit him since he dropped the dime on Kevin, and he testified forlornly, "I don't have a family no more."
Dustin went onto say that Kevin was going through some kind of emotional breakdown from the two of them doing Methamphetamine, back in the day when Kevin confided to Dustin that it was him who had stabbed and cut up Grandpa's body and put it in the septic tank. Kevin told him that "the only other person who knew about 'it' was 'Les', Kevin's best friend. 'Les', Kevin told me, took 'it' to his grave with him."
The jury did not get this side story expanded upon. For sure, Patrick Cunningham's murder wasn't the only sudden and mysterious death to take place in Kevin Rotenberry's most recent history.
Ultimately ruled a suicide, this incident took place AFTER Patrick Cunningham was killed in 1996. It occurred on October 2, 2000, inside Kevin's rented house, committed with Kevin's gun, and the only other person present besides the dead man was Kevin
Rotenberry. On that date, around 9:30 pm Detective David Martz
was called to an address in the 5300 block of Pleasant Run
Road due to a suicide. The victim, 24 year old Leslie A.
Raines was found dead at the scene with a gun shot wound to
Upon arrival and reviewing the scene, the Detective decided to
call for the North Richland Hills Crime Scene for
assistance. The crime unit decided to take gun powder
samples from the hands of Kevin Rotenberry. Rotenberry
told police that he and the victim were like "blood
brothers," and they hung out together. That evening
Rotenberry said he was having an argument with Raines'
girlfriend about the two hanging out together. He said
that he heard Raines put a chamber in the gun and as he turned
around Raines shot himself in the head.
Leslie Alton Raines, then 24, fired a single gunshot to his head at 9:21 PM from a .38 calibur Smith & Wesson that Raines had picked up earlier in the evening, owned by Kevin, on Kevin's behalf, from Anita Rotenberry. Kevin, his wife Robin Rotenberry, and 1 year-old son Jordan, were then living around the corner from the Colleyville Terrace family home at a rent house at 5313 Pleasant Run Road. Robin had been at a trade show out of town and the child was with her parents, who were about to pick her up from the airport. Kevin's statement tells in his own words, how he and "Les", his childhood "best friend and blood brother" had been partying since the previous Sunday, October 1st, when his wife went to the airport.
Rotenberry's signed statement said that Raines had taken his
gun that was lying on a tray in the room and when he turned
around and looked "right at him," Raines had the gun
hard-pressed against his temple. .."before I could say
his name he pulled the trigger, the gun startled me and him
and he looked up at me with wide eyes like he didn't know what
happened." Rotenberry said he then called 911.
Back to the courtroom: The cross-examination of Dustin concluded with Defense Attorney Leonard Schilling loudly grilling him about why, when Dustin lived with his grandparents as a child, why Dustin himself hadn't intervened "all the times Pat beat the tar out of Grandma?"
"I was only ten years old." Dustin said. Schilling then shouted, "Did you know how to use the phone to call the police at ten?"
The State rested it's case. Defense Attorney Michael Ware rested it's case without calling any witnesses. Judge Robert Gill told the jury he would prepare the charge to them on Tuesday night and on Wednesday they will begin deliberations. Judge Gill then released them for the evening.
The Defense, after the jury was excused, made a motion for acquittal of all charges. Judge Gill denied.
Tomorrow, the Verdict...
Previous LNO reports of interest: