Originally created 07/15/06

Dad to stay jailed in tampered soup case



ATLANTA - A judge on Friday told William Allen Cunningham he was not eligible for bond on federal charges of poisoning his children's soup in a scheme to sue the Campbell Soup Co.

Mr. Cunningham was indicted on tampering and fraud charges in federal court, but also faces five counts of child cruelty in Clayton County, where his 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter were hospitalized after Mr. Cunningham allegedly fed them tainted soup.

On one occasion, he allegedly used the prescription drugs Prozac and Amitriptyline - both used to treat depression - to poison the children.

Mr. Cunningham was arrested in March and has since been in a Clayton County jail. Terrence Bethune, Mr. Cunningham's attorney in the Clayton County case, said Friday that his client is still awaiting a bond hearing there. He was initially denied bond in that case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn G. Brill said Mr. Cunningham is not eligible for bond on the federal charges because of the pending state charges.

At Mr. Cunningham's brief hearing Friday before Judge Brill, his in-laws watched as the judge read the indictment.

Mr. Cunningham pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face up to 75 years in prison.

According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Cunningham called Campbell's on Jan. 20, told the company its soup was contaminated and threatened to sue. Authorities say there was no evidence the soup was tainted when it was purchased.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said the children are in the custody of their mother, Rhonda Cunningham, who has not been charged. On Friday, family members attending the hearing said the children were safe and doing well, but they declined to comment further.

Ms. Cunningham filed for divorce May 6 and served Mr. Cunningham the papers at the jail. Mr. Bethune said he expects the divorce to be finalized next month. He does not believe Mr. Cunningham has seen his children since he was arrested.

Mr. Bethune, who is not representing Mr. Cunningham in his federal case, said the local case could be dismissed if federal prosecutors proceed.

Mr. Cunningham, who worked as a dump truck driver before he was arrested, was declared indigent and assigned a court-appointed federal defender. He told the judge he had no bank accounts and no cash. He said he lost his single-wide trailer and believed it had been towed. He said all he owns is a 1999 Dodge Caravan.