BELFAST, Maine — Amber Cummings, charged with murdering her husband last December, has pleaded guilty to domestic violence manslaughter and will spend at most one year in prison.
The 31-year-old Cummings entered her plea before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland on Friday. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Cummings was sentenced to eight years in prison with all but one year suspended and six years probation.
The one year prison sentence is a maximum cap as part of the agreement, and Cummings will be able to argue for probation when she is sentenced in Waldo County Superior Court in January.
“We are obviously going to be asking for no incarceration,” defense attorney Eric Morse said Sunday. “We are pleased we will have an opportunity to argue for probation and under the circumstances we think that is appropriate because incarceration would only lead to her further decompensation and breakdown.”
Cummings was charged with the Dec. 9, 2008, murder of her husband James Cummings, 29, at their home in Belfast. The couple’s then 9-year-old daughter was at home at the time of the shooting. Cummings told police she shot her husband after he threatened to kill himself, her and their daughter during a terrorist attack on Washington, D.C.
Since the murder, both Cummings and her daughter have undergone extensive therapy and been examined by a number of psychiatrists. Morse said Cummings also was being treated with a number of anxiety and stress medications.
James Cummings was shot twice in the head with a .45-caliber revolver while he slept. At the time of his death he had a loaded handgun under his pillow and another beside him on a bedstead, according to evidence revealed in court.
Amber Cummings, who has been free on $50,000 bail since the shooting, will remain free on bail until her sentencing. Morse had indicated during a pretrial hearing conducted in July that her defense would be based on battered woman syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Morse said the Attorney General’s Office accepted the plea agreement after the forensic examination conducted by Dr. Andrew Wish, the state’s psychiatrist, “found real, legitimate concerns” that Cummings was suffering from PTSD and battered woman syndrome.
“He validated what she had been saying all along,” Morse said. “He [Cummings] had abused her for years. From the very beginning she had explained to police that she had been abused and was basically defending herself and her daughter.”
Cummings told police that before his death her husband was plotting to build so-called dirty bombs and set them off during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. She said Cummings intended to bring her and their daughter along on his suicide attack.
Radioactive and explosive materials were removed from the family’s home in the days after the murder. Instructions on how to build dirty bombs also were found in the home. Other documents removed from the home indicated that James Cummings had terrorist leanings.
Investigators never divulged the existence of the bomb ingredients, but a leaked FBI memo detailing the inventory was posted on Web sites two months after the murder. The memo also disclosed that James Cummings had subjected his wife to physical and sexual abuse during their decade-long marriage.
In motions initially sealed by the court, the state argued that releasing the information about the explosives to the public would be “detrimental to the ongoing investigation,” emphasizing that the seized items should not be made public.
Maine authorities confirmed the existence of the chemical materials after the FBI memo became public.
Besides the cache of explosives and weapons found in the home, police also discovered a large amount of child pornography on computers removed from there. According to a search warrant filed with the case, 45 digital movie clips and an additional 700 digital photographic images depicting children were uncovered.
An affidavit filed with the case described the discovery as “evidence of the intentional or knowing manufacture, possession or dissemination of sexually explicit materials.” The affidavit further stated that the images were of young children exposing their genitals or engaged in sexual acts.
More than a half-dozen loaded handguns, a loaded 12-gauge shotgun and boxes of ammunition were among the items taken from the house. Cummings had bragged of his arsenal to tradesmen who worked on the family home. He also spoke to them of his admiration for Adolf Hitler and told them he owned some of Hitler’s dishes and cutlery.