Prosecutor releases statement on conviction of Paradise kidnappers

On February 15, 2022, Jon Stygler (age 70) and George Cunningham (age 56) were sentenced by the Honorable James P. Lambros of the 50th Circuit Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Mr. Cunningham was sentenced to 39.5 years to 50 years, while his co-defendant, Mr. Stygler, was sentenced to 26.6 years to 50 years.

Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Stygler were tried jointly by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kristin M. Giommi. Over the five-day trial, jurors viewed approximately 42 pieces of evidence and heard from 22 witnesses who described the horrific events that transpired on March 13, 2019, when these men carried out a pre-meditated plan to kidnap Mr. Cunningham’s biological child. The 5-year-old biological child was removed from Mr. Cunningham’s care through an Ohio court when he was only 11 months old and placed permanently with a local Chippewa County family, after Mr. Cunningham was arrested and ultimately convicted of sexually assaulting his daughter.

The jurors learned that Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Stygler broke into the family’s Paradise residence while armed with clubs, wasp spray, and knives. Courageously, the family tried to fight back, however, the defendants eventually subdued and hog tied the family before carrying the 5-year-old child, clothed only in pajamas, out of the home and into the freezing March temperatures. The men also took the phones from the house in order to thwart the family from calling for help.

They took the child north, up a dead-end road where they ditched their truck and proceeded onto the dangerous ice of Whitefish Bay – headed toward Canada on foot. The 5-year-old was transported by sled with only a sleeping bag; no coat, hat, gloves, or boots.

To say that the officers involved risked their lives that day would be an understatement. Lake Superior had started to melt and refreeze during the spring breakup, which left several inches of freezing water between the solid ice below, and the thin layer of ice above.

Every step the officer took on the ice broke through and forced them to wade through icy water, and the snowmobiles were barely able to stay running as the water threatened to waterlog them. Thanks to the courageous actions of the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Stygler were apprehended on the ice and the child was recovered safely and returned to his family.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury ultimately convicted both men on all counts charged, including:

George Stephen Cunningham
– Count 1- Child Abuse 1st Degree
– Count 2- Armed Robbery
– Count 3- Home Invasion 1st Degree
– Counts 4-8 – Unlawful Imprisonment
– Count 9- Kidnapping

Jon Scott Stygler
– Count 1- Armed Robbery
– Count 2- Home Invasion 1st Degree
– Counts 3-7 –Unlawful Imprisonment
– Count 8- Kidnapping

The case was originally set for trial in September 2019, and prosecution was prepared to go forward at that time. However, defense requested an adjournment which the court granted. Unfortunately, the next trial date coincided with the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, and it was not until August 2021 that the trial was actually held. Ordinarily, sentencing would occur within approximately 6 weeks of the verdict, but defense continued to request adjournments until the case was eventually concluded with the sentencing hearing on February 15, 2022.

During the sentencing hearing, the parents described the serious lasting physical and psychological impacts these men have caused to them and their four children. Ms. Giommi reiterated to the Court that this was not a crime of opportunity, that these men developed a targeted plan to violently steal a child. They were equipped with three bags of survival gear, 2 sleds, multiple bags of zip ties, duct tape, and weapons. She also highlighted that neither of the men have expressed any form of remorse, and instead have made it clear that they would do this again. “A plea offer was never extended in this case for good reason, because their dangerous actions that day almost resulted in multiple deaths. This egregious and atrocious conduct that Chippewa county has arguably never seen before was extremely selfish,” said Giommi during the hearing. “Their defiance of the law and their lack of remorse goes to show that no amount of rehabilitation will keep the family safe.”

“What bothers me about this case was that it was carried out against Mr. Cunningham’s own family. He, along with Mr. Stygler, assaulted and restrained his own sister and his minor nieces and nephews. We hope by convicting these men, that the family can start to move forward, and that these lengthy sentences will provide some closure and peace of mind, knowing that they will likely never see freedom again,” explained Stratton. “Our office would like to thank each and every officer who answered the call of duty that night, and who put their lives on the line as they searched the Paradise area trying to locate the 5-year-old. From the door to door canvasing, to searching the thawing ice in the pitch black, your dedication does not go unnoticed.”

The bravery and dedication demonstrated by law enforcement on that freezing night saved a boy’s life, and now his attackers will spend the remainder of their lives in prison, unable to hurt a child ever again.

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