A Clinton teenager has been arrested in the Morisey Boulevard murder that claimed the life of 56-year-old Benjamin Cunningham earlier this month.
Scileek Phugwan Washington, 19, whose address was listed as 99 Cranberry Lane, Clinton, was arrested Tuesday in the shooting death of Cunningham, found unresponsive the evening of Sept. 16 in his 400 West Morisey Blvd. yard, the victim of a single gunshot wound.
Investigators from the Clinton Police Neighborhood Improvement Team and the State Bureau of Investigation took Washington into custody at the Sampson County Courthouse and charged him with murder and possession of firearm by a convicted felon. Warrants were taken out on Washington after discussions between authorities and District Attorney Ernie Lee.
The teenager was taken into custody, transported to the Sampson County Detention Center and placed behind bars without privilege of bond.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, Washington was convicted on July 1 in Sampson County with possession with intent to sell a Schedule VI controlled substance stemming from an offense in November 2014. He was given a suspended sentence and two and half years’ probation.
Police revealed last week that they believed Cunningham, the father of three, knew his shooter and that the fatal shooting “was not a random act.” Cunningham’s son Michael and another man, who regularly cut the grass at the residence, were at the residence at the time of the fatal shooting. Michael was under the carport retrieving gas for the mower when the suspect reportedly pulled up in a burgundy vehicle and fired a single shot, which Michael heard ring out but did not see the suspect who fired.
When he ran around the side of the house, he saw his father on the ground and the vehicle speeding away. It was approximately 7:15 p.m. Sept. 16 when police and EMS responded to a 911 call from Michael Cunningham.
As emergency responders were en route, Michael talked with his dad, who had just put on his church clothes to go to Saint Pauls Church of Christ. Police arrived in minutes, followed by EMS personnel minutes after that. They tried to revive Ben for nearly half an hour before he was pronounced dead, his son said.
Cunningham was a product of the Clinton City School System, where he excelled academically as well as athletically. He was a man of faith and a member of Saint Paul Church of Christ. In a touching tribute to her father, Deidra Cunningham called her father “a man of true faith, (who) loved God with all his heart.”
Along with Deidra and twin brother Michael, Ben has a younger daughter Dimond.
“He cherished his three children with an unconditional love that was exuded through his conversation and actions,” Deidra wrote. “He was a family man — this was also inclusive of the community at large. As often as I can remember, my father would greet every individual and treat others with love and respect. He was the epitome of the golden rule.”
He would also use his cooking skills to serve his church and the community he loved.
“He became well known within the community for his culinary skills, lending his services for catering events, homeless shelters, and family gatherings,” his daughter said.
Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley stated last week that police investigators and SBI agents were conducting inquiries and following up on all leads, while seeking help from the community in solving the case. While an arrest has been made, he said Tuesday that the investigation is still ongoing.
Any citizen with information about this crime should call investigators at the Clinton Police Department at 910-592-3105. Information can be reported anonymously by calling 910-590-3009 or texting keyword tipcpd and the information to TIP411 (847411) or send photos and other information through the “tipcpd” app for Apple and Android devices.
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.