Former Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Slaying Charges
WILMINGTON, Ohio (AP) -- A former police officer charged with killing a man after being called to a home on a complaint of a family fight has pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
Investigators said David M. Mueller, a former police officer in the rural village of New Vienna, shot Robert Cundiff to death on Feb. 4, 2002, after Cundiff's wife called 911 to say her husband was trying to set their home on fire with her children inside. Mueller had tried to handcuff Cundiff, 32, before shooting him with his police handgun, investigators said.
Mueller, 31, of Hamilton, entered written pleas of guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. Mueller admitted he told other officers to shred his original written statement about what happened to Cundiff. Four other people face charges in the alleged cover-up of Mueller's conduct.
Mueller is free on bond to spend the holidays with his wife and three children before his sentencing Jan. 14 in Clinton County Common Pleas Court.
He could be sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, a lesser offense than the original murder charge, which could have brought a life sentence if convicted. Mueller also could be sentenced to up to five years for evidence tampering.
"He is guilty, he is responsible for it," Cundiff's wife, Bobbie Jo, said outside the courtroom Wednesday.
New Vienna, a village of 1,000 people, is about 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati.
Mrs. Cundiff told Mueller that her husband grabbed her by the throat and that he was threatening to burn down the house with her and the children -- then ages 9 months to 8 years -- inside, Mueller said in his written plea. Mueller said he found burned coffee filters and smelled smoke.
Mueller said Cundiff twisted away as he tried to handcuff him, then rushed the officer. Mueller said he hit Cundiff in the leg and head with his police nightstick, then shot him to death.
Trials are scheduled in 2004 on charges that four other people tried to cover up for Mueller. They are Diane Menashe, a Columbus lawyer who formerly represented Mueller; New Vienna Mayor Timothy Bentz, who lost his re-election bid and leaves office at the end of this year, and two other New Vienna police officers, Sgt. Jami Powell and Capt. Terry Hardesty.
Virgil Lanham, a former New Vienna police officer, already is serving a year's probation after admitting to his role in the document destruction.