By Reggie Ellis

An Exeter man originally accused of murdering his father pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges at a pre-trial hearing on March 25.

Edward Lee Cummings, 36, of Exeter entered the plea after the District Attorney's Office refused to reduce charges and said it would pursue a murder trial set to begin on April 15. Public Defender Justin Tuttle requested the action based on testimony from Cummings' mother and son at a Jan. 28 preliminary hearing that contradicted statements they had made to the police at the scene of the crime eight months earlier. Tuttle said Cummings' options were to take the District Attorney's offer to plead guilty to reduced charges or face a jury trial on murder charges.

Cummings was charged with assaulting and murdering his father, 62-year-old Carl Cummings, at his parent's home in the 400 block of North Orange Avenue in Exeter on July 28, 2003.

Raymond Cummings, the defendant's son, and Shirley Cummings, the defendant's mother, had previously told police that "Eddie" and his wife Jenny came to Carl and Shirley's house in order to sell a $10 VCR.

Raymond, who had been living with his grandparents after being taken from his father's home by Child Protective Services, started yelling at his mother, saying he was "embarrassed" that they were selling the VCR to a friend's family. Edward then yelled at Raymond and in turn Carl began yelling at Edward. Raymond left the living room to watch TV in his bedroom. The adults continued to argue until Carl repeatedly told Edward and Jenny to leave, partly because he suspected they had been doing drugs. Edward yelled several threats at his father as he and Jenny walked out the door.

According to statements Shirley and Raymond made to Exeter Police Officers, as Carl was closing the door, Edward kicked his father in the chest and hit him in the face. The assault triggered a fatal heart attack for Carl, who was paralyzed on much of his left side and had a weak heart from a heart attack in 1989 and three strokes since then. Raymond called 911 and police and fire responded simultaneously.

However, at the preliminary hearing, Public Defender Justin Tuttle painted a much different picture. While on the witness stand, Raymond's testimony led one to believe that he was angry and just wanted someone to blame for the death of his grandfather.

"I lied about seeing my dad kick grandpa in the chest," Raymond told the court under oath.

Shirley's testimony was similar citing that she was angry for Edward being on "dope," as he tested positive for methamphetamine following the altercation. She said Edward never hit Carl, a statement Deputy District Attorney Sarah Bratsch challenged by reading from the 911 call transcripts. Tuttle suggested that the heart attack was due to bottled up emotions. Shirley also said bruises and cuts on his body were a result of Carl dropping to the floor during frequent blackouts.

"The statement you gave the police department was not accurate," Tuttle said to Shirley. "Why?"

Her answers ranged from "I don't know" to "I was angry" to "I don't remember."

Dr. Gary Walter, who conducted the autopsy on Carl's body on July 29, testified that Carl's body had "abrasions and bruises" which could be consistent with falling often, but were "fairly recent," within 24-48 hours of the time of death. Walter described the 62-year-old as a "heart attack waiting to happen."

Edward had pleaded not guilty to murder, breaking and entering and being under the influence of a controlled substance at an arraignment on Aug. 1. He will be sentenced on those charges with the exception of murder, which has been reduced to manslaughter. His sentencing will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, April 26 in Department 2 of the Tulare County Superior Court. Tuttle said there has been no indication of sentence but he is looking at a minimum of three years and a maximum of 11 years in prison following a year in county jail and some felony probation time.

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