Belfast woman accused of shooting husband changes plea

Posted March 26, 2009, at 3:03 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The woman accused of murdering her husband in bed last year has changed her plea from not guilty by reason of insanity to not guilty.

Amber K. Cummings, 31, of Belfast entered her change of plea during an appearance before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Waldo County Superior Court on Thursday.

Cummings initially had pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect during her arraignment last month after she was indicted for the “intentional and knowing murder” of her husband, James G. Cummings.

James Cummings, 29, was shot twice in the head with a .45-caliber pistol as he lay sleeping in the High Street home he shared with his wife and 9-year-old daughter. His daughter was home at the time of the Dec. 9, 2008, shooting.

In the days after his death, authorities uncovered evidence that James Cummings had stored radioactive and explosive materials at the home along with instructions for making a “dirty bomb.” Documents indicating extremist beliefs were also found in the house. A search of a computer taken from the home uncovered hundreds of child pornography photographs and videos, according to court documents.

Amber Cummings, who has been free on $50,000 cash bail since her Feb. 13 murder indictment, wore a blue blouse and light-colored pants during her appearance Thursday before Justice Hjelm. She spoke softly when addressed by Hjelm and assured him she understood the proceedings.

Cummings told Hjelm she found nothing prejudicial about the fact that the judge’s wife and her brother work for the Office of the Attorney General, which is prosecuting her case. Hjelm said his spouse and relative work in health-related fields and have nothing to do with the criminal branch of the department. He said the connection would have no bearing on his handling of the case.

“I am fully satisfied that I would be able to act impartially,” Hjelm told Cummings.

When he asked Cummings for her opinion of him hearing the case, she replied, “It would be fine.”

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zania and defense attorney Eric Morse of Rockland agreed that because of the change of plea to not guilty they would postpone taking up a motion by the prosecution requesting a mental examination of Cummings. All motions in the case would be addressed after the April 30 deadline for any filings, Hjelm ordered.

Police were dispatched to the Cummings home at 11:21 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, when a neighbor called to report that Amber Cummings and her daughter had suddenly appeared on her doorstep and that after she asked them inside, Cummings said she had shot her husband.

James Cummings was found in bed with the blankets up to his shoulders with an apparent gunshot wound to the head.

When police interviewed Cummings at the neighbor’s home she admitted shooting her husband. Affidavits filed with the case did not reveal what Cummings may have told police were her reasons for shooting her husband.

Amber Cummings did tell police that her husband had neo-Nazi extremist views and frequently had her log onto “different Web sites and chat rooms to further his beliefs.” She said he would often explore chat rooms and Web sites “seeking women to join their sexual relationship.” She also said he used Web sites to obtain “certain chemical information,” according to affidavits filed with the case.

The investigators’ computer search uncovered 45 video clips and 700 digital images of child pornography, the affidavits stated.

An FBI internal memo listing some of the dangerous items found during the December search of Cummings’ home and noting James Cummings’ alleged terrorist leanings and plans to build a dirty bomb was leaked on the Internet last month by unattributable.com and reported on by the Bangor Daily News. Authorities later acknowledged they had shared information about the explosive and radioactive materials with the FBI.

Maine authorities confirmed the existence of the chemical materials only after confronted with the Bangor Daily News story. They stated the public was never in any danger. Some of Cummings’ neighbors thought otherwise.

After Thursday’s court appearance, defense attorney Morse said that Cummings’ initial plea of insanity was entered as a legal precaution during her initial appearance and that she had every intention of changing her plea at a later date. The case most likely will be heard before a jury this fall, he said.

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