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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 7 - 13, 2001


Trial set in solicitation of murders case

Express Staff Writer

A 5th District Court judge found sufficient evidence Tuesday to proceed against a former Blaine County Jail inmate charged with trying to arrange the killing of two men expected to testify against him in a drug trafficking case.

At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing in Hailey, Judge Mark Ingram ruled that the state had presented enough evidence to convince him that Louis Eugene Cunningham, 59, should be bound over to district court for trial on charges of solicitation of murder in the first degree.

The prosecution alleges that Cunningham hired a fellow inmate, who told him he was a former hit man, to kill a Blaine County Sheriff’s detective and a confidential informant against him. He was arrested by the FBI at his home in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Feb. 7 as part of a sweep that picked up 11 other alleged drug traffickers in Blaine County.

Cunningham is charged with two counts of delivery of a total of a pound and a half of marijuana. According to county Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, conviction on those charges could bring a penalty of as much as life in prison because of Cunningham’s previous trafficking convictions.

In court on Tuesday, Cunningham, a balding, gray-haired man with glasses and a round belly listened quietly, occasionally exhibiting a slight smile, as inmate Sam Nelson testified to conversations he had heard in July between him and inmate Victor Buchi.

Nelson told the court that Buchi had presented himself as a former military assassin and hit man. Nelson said that one evening over dinner, Cunningham asked Buchi if he had ever killed anyone. When Buchi said he had, Nelson testified, Cunningham told him that "if the witness (Jesus "Chewy" Vega) was removed, or killed, there would not be enough evidence to convict him."

Nelson said that during the course of several conversations, Cunningham also asked Buchi to kill a detective who had investigated the case against him. He said Cunningham offered to pay Buchi $10,000 to kill Vega and $15,000 to kill the detective, and told him he would arrange payment through a bondsman to conceal the nature of the deal.

During questioning by defense attorney Bob Pangburn, Nelson acknowledged that he had made a plea agreement with the prosecution that included a promise to testify in this case, but contended that charges were reduced because of a re-evaluation of the facts, a claim later confirmed by Thomas in an interview. When Pangburn asked Nelson if he expected to receive any benefit from his testimony, Nelson said, "None other than seeing a couple of people who thought they were doing the right thing live."

Following Nelson’s testimony, Idaho State Police Detective Scott Ward told the court that Buchi cooperated with police by wearing a body transmitter during two conversations with Cunningham on July 12 and 16. On July 18, Ward said, Buchi was transferred from Blaine County Jail to Cassia County Jail, under the pretense that he had bonded out. Before he left, Buchi gave Cunningham a phone number where he could reach him. The number was actually that of a detective at the Cassia County Sheriff’s Office.

During two recorded calls, Ward said, Cunningham told Buchi he was having trouble contacting his attorney to get a van and motorcycle he owned transferred to the bondsman for payment. Ward said the investigation was terminated when he concluded that Cunningham was unlikely to be able to make the payments.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.