Race, politics not a factor in murder trial, judge rules - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Race, politics not a factor in murder trial, judge rules

Paul Cummings Paul Cummings
District Attorney Ben David District Attorney Ben David
Gretchen Engel (center) Gretchen Engel (center)
Judge Jerry Cash Martin Judge Jerry Cash Martin

JANUARY 28, 2005 -- District Attorney Ben David celebrated victory Thursday, after Judge Jerry Cash Martin ruled David did not use race or politics when he decided to seek the death penalty against Paul Cummings.

"There is no credible evidence that Assistant District Attorney, now District Attorney, Ben David is a racist," the judge said in his ruling.

Martin called the defense motion blatant political sabotage. In the middle of a hotly contested race for D.A. in 2004, in which David was a candidate, media outlets were sent a copy of the motion that claimed race played a factor in seeking the death penalty.

David agrees it was political. He says, Gretchen Engel, now a former Duke Law School professor, used her students to attack him before the election.

"She should be ashamed. She's a coward and a fraud," David said following Thursday's verdict.

The hearing was based on a discussion a former intern in the D.A.'s office allegedly had in a classroom at Duke University.

A classmate of that intern testified she was told David decided not to strike a deal with Cummings that would have spared him the death penalty for racial reasons.

Two years ago Cummings stabbed Jane Head 16 times in her home.

In the courtroom Cummings was calm and quiet, but his family and friends had a different reaction after the judge's ruling.

"It was almost unbearable for his mother. It makes it a dark day," said Rev. Richard Marshburn, Jr., speaking on behalf of the Cummings family.

Also in the courtroom was Head's daughter. Joni Carson says she's pleased for the man who prosecuted her mother's killer.

"He stood up and restored my faith in the judicial system," Carson said. "He did an excellent job."

Cummings' lawyers plan to appeal the judge's decision. For now, Cummings is back at Central Prison in Raleigh where he'll wait on death row. No date has been set for his execution.

Reported by Maggie Alexander

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