Pregnant mother goes on trial for shooting husband on Valentine's Day

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The Independent Online
IF ST VALENTINE'S is the day when the enamoured seal their love by exchanging tokens of romance, then perhaps it should also be the day when the spurned and the cheated have their say.

This, at least, will form part of the defence of Helen Cummings, a British woman aged 33 whose trial for the murder of her American husband began yesterday in Florida.

Mrs Cummings, a nurse and the mother of a one-year-old boy, was arrested on 14 Februaryafter she rang the police, allegedly distraught and sobbing: "Oh my God, what have I done?"

Police say she had fired several rounds into her husband Tyler, three years her junior, with a .357 Magnum revolver as he lay on their marital bed. Mrs Cummings, they said, had become enraged after finding pictures of her husband naked and with another woman, while looking through his car.

If she is found guilty of second-degree murder (equivalent to manslaughter in the UK), Mrs Cummings faces up to 25 years in prison.

She has not denied killing her husband, and her lawyer, Warner Olds, has painted a picture of a three-year marriage blighted by domestic violence, threats, fear and frustration in which finding the damning pictures was the last straw.

Mr Olds, a loquacious public defender, has remained positive throughout the past seven months, and says he will prove Mrs Cummings was a victim of battered wives' syndrome and post-natal depression.

He calls her a "pussycat" and says she was provoked constantly through physical threats and his repeated infidelity. "What she saw would make any person's blood boil and the prosecution have acknowledged there was no premeditation."

The couple met at the Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, where they both worked as nurses, and married in 1995 after Tyler divorced his first wife. Her late husband's family said they would not seek the death penalty even if she were charged with first-degree murder, pointing out it would mean the couple's children would become orphans.

Although the trial formally began yesterday, the first few days will be filled by the process of jury selection, with a specialist "selector" sifting through prospective jurors using questions about domestic violence.

Mrs Cummings' brother, Dean Billington, has been in America to support her for most of the past few months; the Cummings' son, Terry, is staying with his mother's parents in Lancashire. A few weeks after her husband's death, while in prison, she found out she was pregnant with their second child.

The nurse's arrest and imprisonment on remand initially resulted in a flurry of features in the British tabloid press; a Briton had shot an American in a state where things normally were the other way round.

In Florida, a state of sunshine, swamps and obvious inequity between the inbound tourists and the local underclasses, the killing was so routine that the state's main newspaper, the Miami Herald, has virtually ignored it.

A news editor on the paper said yesterday: "There's a lot of murders here, and some of them we hardly get to cover."

But the domestic coverage of this St Valentine's Day killing has shown considerable charity to a woman who, by her own admission, shot her unarmed husband in the buttocks, chest, stomach and arm with a powerful handgun, killing him instantly.

One interview, in jail, portrayed her studying the Bible and worrying about who would look after her son; another, when she was released on bail, had her relaxing at her villa in North Lauderdale and worrying if she could ever get back her job at the hospital.

Perhaps not entirely irrelevant is that Mrs Cummings is white and British, and her husband was black and foreign, and the killing happened in a state where in June, a British tourist was raped by a black man in her hotel room while her husband was present.

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