Judge rules in Cummings hearing

Paul Cummings
Paul Cummings
District Attorney Ben David
District Attorney Ben David

JANUARY 27, 2005 -- A judge has ruled that District Attorney Ben David never used race or politics when deciding whether to seek the death penalty against convicted murderer Paul Cummings.

Cummings showed little emotion in the New Hanover County courtroom as the judge announced his decision Thursday morning.

The hearing, requested by Cummings, stems from a conversation a former intern in the D.A.'s office allegedly had with a classmate.

Earlier this week the classmate testified David's intern told a Duke University Law class that Cummings wasn't offered a deal that could have spared his life because it wouldn't look fair. Cummings is a Lumbee Indian who looks white, and David was planning to ask for the death penalty against another accused murderer, Curtis Dixon, who is black.

Dixon was accused of killing UNC-Wilmington student Jessica Faulkner. He killed himself in prison before the case could go to trial.

State law bans race from being a factor in such decisions, and David denies it figured in his thinking in the Cummings case.

"I feel fully vindicated by today's courtoom decision by Judge Martin. In his words, this was blatant political sabotage by the star witness Gretchen Engel who was fired from Duke University as a result of these allegations," David said.

More than two years ago, Cummings stabbed his 62-year-old neighbor, Jane Truelove Head, at a Wilmington trailer park.

Prosecutors plan to appeal Thursday's decision.

Reported by Maggie Alexander