Insanity pleaded in Belfast killing

Posted Feb. 17, 2009, at 1:45 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:43 a.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Amber B. Cummings entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease when she was arraigned Tuesday in the shooting death of her husband late last year.

Cummings, 31, of Belfast answered to the murder charge in 5th District Court before Judge Patricia Worth. She is accused in the Dec. 9 shooting death of her husband, James G. Cummings, 29, at their home in Belfast. Cummings was shot with a Colt 45 Peacemaker pistol.

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Speaking in a soft voice when Worth asked her if she understood the charge against her, Cummings said, “Yes, I do.”

Her attorney, Joseph Baiungo of Belfast, entered a plea of “not guilty and not criminally responsible because of mental disease or defect” on her behalf. Baiungo was filling in for Rockland lawyer Rick Morse, who is on vacation and is Cummings’ attorney of record.

Speaking outside the courtroom after entering the plea on Cummings’ behalf, Baiungo said that an insanity plea is required by Maine law to be entered at the time of arraignment. He said the plea could always be withdrawn at a later date.

Baiungo noted that in entering the plea he did not mean that Cummings was “incompetent now, only at the time of the crime.”

Judge Worth ordered that Cummings be held without bail pending a bail hearing. The state requested the hearing, which Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said must be held within five days. The hearing likely will be held at the beginning of next week before Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm.

“We’re ready for a bail hearing as soon as the court can do it,” Baiungo said.

Zainea said afterward that during the bail hearing the state would have to establish probable cause that a felony was committed.

Cummings appeared in court wearing leg irons and a blue Waldo County Jail smock and pants. She was indicted on a charge of “intentional and knowing murder” on Friday and turned herself in at the jail that same day.

A police search of the Cummings home after the murder turned up radioactive and explosive materials and instructions for building a dirty bomb. State officials have said that the materials posed no danger to the public.

Authorities were notified of a shooting at 346 High St. at 11:25 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, by a neighbor. Cummings and her 9-year-old daughter, Clara, had arrived at the neighbor’s door, and Cummings asked the neighbor to call the police. Police have said that Cummings’ daughter was in the home at the time of the shooting. Detectives questioned Cummings for several hours at the neighbor’s home before allowing her to leave around dusk. She had been free until her indictment last Friday.

Police spent a number of days searching the Cummings home, and according to an internal FBI memo that was leaked from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center and posted on the Internet last month, some of the evidence removed from the home linked James Cummings to dirty bombs and a white supremacist group.

The FBI memo was part of a report on possible threats to President-elect Barack Obama before his inauguration on Jan. 20. State officials impounded the search warrants associated with the case but have acknowledged sharing information gleaned from the search of the Cummings home with the FBI.

The FBI memo said Amber Cummings told investigators that her husband talked about dirty bombs and mixed chemicals in their kitchen sink. She said she had endured years of mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, according to the memo. It also indicated she told police that her husband was “very upset” when Barack Obama was elected president.

A spokeswoman for the threat analysis center said it was determined the Belfast incident posed no potential threat to Obama.

Local tradesmen who worked on the Cummings home last year recalled that he bragged of having many guns and also spoke of his fascination for Adolf Hitler. He had a collection of Nazi memorabilia and told workers he had some of Hitler’s personal silverware and place settings.

The Cummings grew up and were married in Fort Bragg, Calif., before leaving there for Texas and eventually Belfast, where they moved in August 2007 after buying their home in a foreclosure sale for $153,900. Cummings was the son of a wealthy Fort Bragg real estate owner who was murdered by a former employee in 1997. The FBI report said Cummings bragged of inheriting $2 million from his father.

Among the observers in the courtroom Tuesday were a middle-aged couple. When asked whether they were from California and supporters of Amber Cummings, they said nothing and walked away. As Cummings was driven back to jail in a Belfast Police Department cruiser, the man waved and the woman said, “We love you, Amber.”

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