Wealthy daughter of arms dealer shot her 'violent' lover

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SHE was born into a family that specialised in death, and death on an industrial scale. But Susan Cummings' father merely provided the technology: she shot her boyfriend.

The heiress to Sam Cummings, the world's most famous and successful arms dealer, called police on 7 September to report "a shot man". When they arrived at her 350-acre estate, they found Roberto Villegas in a pool of blood in the kitchen, with four bullet wounds from a 9mm Walther pistol.

There is no question that she fired that gun. What is at issue is why she did it. When her trial opened in Warrenton, Virginia on Wednesday Ms Cummings, 35, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and the unlawful use of a firearm to commit a crime. Her case is that she acted in self- defence.

Villegas, 38, made an unlikely partner for such a wealthy woman. The son of poor farmers from the Argentine pampas, he came to the United States in 1985 as a groom for polo ponies. He developed into a successful professional, and met Ms Cummings at the local polo club in the summer of 1995. She invited him to coach a polo team on her estate, and they became lovers. Cummings lavished attention and money on Villegas, buying him polo ponies at pounds 10,000 a time.

Prosecutor Kevin Casey argues that the romance had turned sour, and that Cummings shot Villegas in a fit of jealousy. Blair Howard, her defence lawyer, says that Villegas was a dangerous man with a fierce temper who would draw his knife when things turned nasty. "I treat my women and my horses the same way ... if I can't break them I kill them," Howard quoted Villegas as saying once in a fit of anger.

Cummings' family was hardly a stranger to death. Her father, Sam Cummings, who died in Monaco last week was a former CIA operative. He traded weapons to anyone who could buy through Interarms arms trading company. One of his most successful product lines was a hand gun which he imported into the US: the 9mm Walther.