By Reggie Ellis
An Exeter man was sentenced to six years in prison on April 29 for killing his father in an argument over a $10 VCR while high on methamphetamine.
Edward Cummings, 36, of Exeter pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges at a pre-trial hearing on March 25 to avoid a jury trial on charges of second degree murder. In a brief statement to the court during the sentencing hearing, Cummings said that he regretted what he had done.
"I didn't mean for none of this to happen," he told the judge. "If I could take it back I would. I loved my dad more than anything in the world and I wish he was here to help me out."
Public Defender Justin Tuttle argued that Cummings was remorseful and that because of the unique circumstances of the case -- taking away another member of the Cummings family -- probation should be the sentence.
"This is more an accident than a crime," Tuttle said. "This family has been through enough pain and suffering."
Nine months after her husband's death, Shirley Cummings asked the court to spare her family the pain of losing her son.
"My son's no murderer," she told the judge. "He loved his dad very much and I love my son and my family loves him. My other son may have cancer and I can't lose anymore of my family. I don't want to see him go to prison and my family doesn't want to see him go to prison."
Deputy District Attorney Sarah Bratsch said one of the two prior judges who heard the case ruled that there was sufficient evidence to pursue a second degree murder charge -- murder in the heat of passion with malice but without forethought -- although a second judge allowed the charges to be reduced to involuntary manslaughter -- when someone is killed by accident without malice or forethought.
"Since [Carl] Cummings' passing, the support of the family has shifted to the defendant," she said. "Probation is not an option because he has 13 violations of probation and has never shown the ability to rehabilitate."
Judge Darryl Ferguson said Cummings was not a probation case due to the prior violations.
"He knew that his father had a heart problem as his family has stated previously," he said. "But I don't believe it was aggravated."
The judge sentenced Cummings to six years in prison, instead of the maximum of 11, for involuntary manslaughter. He also ordered Cummings to pay $200 is restitution. Following the sentencing, Cummings looked at his family, shrugged and then lowered his head as he was escorted out of the courtroom.
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 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."