A 16-year-old high school student appeared briefly in adult court Wednesday to face charges he plotted to kill a classmate he didn’t like.
Jeremiah D. Cunningham of Benton City was brought into Benton County Superior Court in handcuffs and chains.
When Judge Bruce Spanner read aloud the charge — conspiracy to commit first-degree murder — the packed courtroom fell silent.
The Kiona-Benton City High School student is accused of having another student lure the intended victim behind the Ki-Be Red Apple Market, where he planned to stab him and hide his body.
Cunningham has been held at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center in Kennewick since his Nov. 21 arrest.
He occasionally looked at his family members seated in the courtroom.
The case was bumped up to adult court automatically because of his age and the seriousness of the allegations.
Cunningham pleaded innocent. His tentative trial date is Jan. 16, and bail was raised to $500,000.
Attorney Ryan Swinburnson of Kennewick was appointed to represent him.
The 18-year-old intended victim told detectives he had been romantically involved with a teen girl for about one week but he felt Cunningham was overly attached to the girl, according to court documents.
He claimed Cunningham was spreading rumors about him at school so he ended his relationship with the girl about two to three weeks before the teens tried to kill him, documents said.
The girl and another teen boy have not been charged yet for their alleged roles in the scheme. They both are 16, and were released by authorities into the custody of their parents.
The teen girl, in her interview with Benton Count sheriff’s detectives, said she told Cunningham “that if he came up with a plan to kill (their classmate), she would get him to the location.”
The 18-year-old said he finally agreed to meet at the market on Nov. 15 to talk with the girl he broke up with. Once there, he saw two boys running back and forth yelling at someone behind the store.
He then saw someone in a red mask gesturing for the teen to approach him, but instead he returned to school, court documents said.
Authorities have said Cunningham was the masked person and was taunted and chased into a field behind the store by some freshman students.
Cunningham allegedly admitted to making the plan and to scoping out where the security cameras were at the store. He reportedly told detectives he had a knife and threw it in a Dumpster behind the school.