Cumberland guilty of 1st-degree murder

February 09, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Timothy Cumberland didn't fire the fatal blast, own the murder weapon or drive the getaway car. But a Carroll Circuit Court jury yesterday found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Gregory Lamont Howard in January of 1993.

The verdict, which came after more than 12 hours of deliberation over two days, surprised Cumberland's defense attorney.

Cumberland's co-defendants -- trigger man Samuel Allen Miller and Daniel Justin Leonard, who owned the gun and the car -- both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in September.

"I am so moved and shocked and surprised," Michael D. Montemarano, Cumberland's attorney, said. "I don't believe the jury's verdict can be sustained by the evidence presented by the state. I have no doubt that the appeal will be successful."

Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill said that she has always thought Cumberland was the most culpable of the killers.

"I think the jury came to the right verdict," Ms. Hill said. "We've always agreed that Tim Cumberland was a leader, not a follower. But for Tim Cumberland, Gregory Howard would be alive today."

Cumberland stood motionless, his hands clasped behind his back, as the jury foreman read guilty verdicts for the charges of conspiracy to murder, first-degree murder and carrying a deadly weapon. As sheriff's deputies put handcuffs on his wrists and led him out of the courtroom, his sister sobbed in her seat in the gallery.

"He's just not a person who could do something like this," his sister, Jennifer Scheihling, said. "I just know he had no intent to kill."

Questions of intent apparently weighed heavily in the jury's deliberations, attorneys said.

On Monday night, jurors asked Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. if a desire for revenge on the person who sold Cumberland a bag of bogus crack could be seen as intent to kill Mr. Howard.

Intent is what differentiates first-degree murder from second-degree murder.

Six jurors contacted in the courthouse parking lot refused to discuss the verdict, which essentially said that Cumberland was more responsible for Mr. Howard's death than the man who pulled the trigger.

The panel of nine men and three women met with Judge Beck for about 15 minutes after returning its verdict. Then the jurors were led out of the courthouse through a rarely used back entrance by two sheriff's deputies and two courtroom bailiffs.

The verdict ended a year of emotional hell for Patricia Winfield, Mr. Howard's mother, who spent all seven days of Cumberland's trial in the first row back from the jury box. She came to the trial, she said, to hear "the whole story" of how her son died from a shotgun blast.

"I feel justice has been served," Ms. Winfield, a probation agent, said after the verdict. "I feel a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can talk to my two daughters, and tell them about this. It has been hard to convince them someone wasn't going to shoot them like their brother had been shot."

BTC She said that listening to testimony about her son -- accusations that he was drunk, possibly armed and maybe even caused the struggle which led to his death -- was difficult.

"Some of the things that were said truly did hurt, but I know what kind of a person my son really was," she said.

According to trial testimony, Cumberland, Miller and Leonard left an all-you-can drink night at a Westminster bar Jan. 28, 1993 and drove to South Center Street in Leonard's car in search of crack cocaine. Cumberland, using his girlfriend's money, bought one rock of crack for $40, then decided he needed another one. The crack he bought the second time turned out to be soap shavings.

Cumberland became angry and bent on revenge for being cheated, prosecutors said, and went looking for the second dealer. When Leonard stopped his car in the 100 block of S. Center St., Cumberland got out and began waving Leonard's loaded shot gun as he shouted racial epithets to everyone on the street.

After a few minutes, he calmed down and got back into the car. Mr. Howard -- who was probably drunk, testimony showed -- approached the car seconds before the gun fired into his chest. He was killed almost instantly.

Leonard and Miller were arrested hours after the slaying. Both agreed in September to plead guilty to second-degree murder. Leonard, who was the state's key witness in Cumberland's trial, will be sentenced to no more than 10 years in state prison. Miller, who testified on behalf of Cumberland, already is serving a 30-year sentence.

Cumberland was offered a similar plea deal last summer, one that reportedly would have resulted in a prison term of no more than 20 years. He rejected the deal.

"He was prepared to take the chance [of a conviction], and it turned out as bad as it possibly could have," Mr. Montemarano said yesterday.

Judge Beck set sentencing for Cumberland April 21.

Prosecutors have said they will ask the judge to impose a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

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