Belfast wife to cite PTSD in shooting

Posted July 30, 2009, at 9:22 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Amber Cummings intends to rely on battered woman syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder as components of her defense when she stands trial for the shooting death of her husband.

That information was revealed Thursday during a hearing before Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm dealing with the findings of Cummings’ expert witnesses and the state’s wish to conduct its own mental examination of Cummings. Hjelm granted the state’s motions.

Cummings, 31, of Belfast is accused of the shooting death of her husband, James Cummings, 29, of Belfast, last Dec. 11. Cummings was shot twice in the head with a .45-caliber Colt revolver while he slept. The couple’s 9-year-old daughter was home at the time of the shooting.

Amber Cummings told police that before her husband’s death James Cummings was plotting to build so-called dirty bombs and set them off during the inauguration of President Obama. Radioactive and explosive materials were removed from Cummings’ High Street home after his death. Instructions on how to build bombs also were found there.

Police did not disclose the existence of the volatile materials, but a leaked FBI memo detailing the inventory showed up on Web sites in February. The memo also disclosed that James Cummings subjected his wife to physical and sexual abuse during their decade-long marriage, according to statements given to police by Amber Cummings.

Defense attorney Eric Morse of Rockland informed Justice Hjelm that the state of Cummings’ mental health at the time she shot her husband would be a component of her defense. He said physicians and psychologists with expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder and battered woman syndrome were expected to be called as expert witnesses during the trial. Morse said the doctors still were in the process of evaluating Cummings.

When Hjelm asked Morse if he intended to have the experts testify during the trial, Morse replied, “In all candor to the court, it would be very unlikely that we wouldn’t call them.”

Because of the type of defense being contemplated, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea filed motions asking that reports from those experts be shared with the state, and that the state be allowed to conduct its own forensic examination of Cummings.

Although Morse objected to the state conducting the forensic examination because Cummings would be “forced to relive the event,” Justice Hjelm granted the state’s motion.

Morse suggested the state cover the cost of having the expert witnesses prepare reports on their examination of Cummings. He said he had not intended to require them to prepare reports. Zainea objected to the state having to pay.

“I don’t think it’s incumbent on the state to pay for the reports,” Zainea said. “This is a defense that is being raised by the defendant … This is a defense based on expert testimony.”

Justice Hjelm disagreed and ruled that the state pay “a reasonable expense” for the reports. He ordered the reports be made available within 60 days of the trial, which likely will take place next spring. Cummings has been free on $50,000 bail since a Waldo County grand jury indicted her in the murder in February.

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