Richmond murder conviction reversed in appeals court

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A convicted Richmond murderer will get a second chance at the justice system. A Virginia Appeals Court judge ordered the conviction of Kevin Cunningham reversed.

Cunningham was found guilty of 2nd degree murder in the April 2010 shooting death of Jeremy Uzzle outside "Have a Nice Day Cafe" in Shockoe Bottom.

The reversal does not mean Cunningham is a free man. He will still face murder charges, he'll just have the right to a new jury and a new trial.

In October, Jeremy Uzzle's family members were relieved after a jury convicted his alleged killer, Cunningham of second degree murder.

"We got justice yes!" said Patricia Riggans at the time. "And Jeremy was happy, he's at peace now. Yes, we are all at peace."

That peace was short lived. A judge reversed the conviction in an opinion dated January 17th, 2012.

That document implies the lower court made an unfair mistake at trial.

"We have to regroup and I'm disappointed about that," said Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael herring.

According to court documents, the Commonwealth asked Cunningham about the illegal purchase of a gun used in the shooting.

The Appeals Court judge ruled that testimony in that line of questioning was against Virginia law, which states attorneys can't bring up illegal acts just to attack the character of a defendant.

We asked Michael Herring to explain that law to us: "Things that seem to be obviously relevant and to be common sense, will sometimes run afoul to the rules of evidence," said Herring. "So, in a homicide trial where you can believe the defendant that he was in fear for his life, but to think that the jury would want to know and be entitled to know that he had illegally obtained the guy that he shot the guy with; this is one of those occasions. However, where the rules conflict with our understanding of what would be relevant and appropriate."

He went on to explain that it would be appropriate for the prosecution to introduce past criminal history. But that the law does not permit him to use testimony regarding how the gun was purchased.

Cunningham's character was core to his defense in the trail. His lawyer argued that he only shot Uzzle out of self-defense.

Cunningham's appeal lawyer, Catherine Rusz said she is elated by his second chance. She says she spoke to his family and they are also excited. Though, she won't be able to reach Cunningham in jail to share the news until Wednesday.

Richmond's Commonwealth Attorney says he still wants a conviction and intends to keep Cunningham in jail. "Our position is the sorts of fights that seem to erupt in the Bottom, huge crowds, somebody feeling besieged, somebody pulls out a weapon, this stuff needs to come to an end," said Herring.

This was the response made by Cunningham's first trial attorney, Reuben Greene:

"As trial counsel, I am elated and encouraged at the news that Kevin's convictions have been reversed and he has won a new trial on the basis of unlawful impeachment evidence being used against him. We objected to this evidence at trial and I am pleased that the Appellate Court has agreed with our position that this evidence should not have been admitted.

We worked very hard to demonstrate Kevin's consistent position that he acted in self-defense. This decision is a substantial step toward obtaining full justice for Kevin and I would like to recognize the excellent work of Kevin's appellate counsel in obtaining this result. While I have not yet had the opportunity to speak with Kevin regarding this development, I am sure he would be pleased and would look forward to his new day in court to establish his innocence."

A new trial will likely be set for early Spring. NBC12 did reach out to Uzzle's family. At this point, they are not commenting on today's development.

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