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State v. Cummings

Supreme Court of Maine

July 6, 2017

STATE OF MAINE
v.
ROLAND L. CUMMINGS

          Argued: March 3, 2017

          Tina Heather Nadeau, Esq. (orally), The Law Office of Tina Heather Nadeau, PLLC, Portland, for appellant Roland L. Cummings

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Aurele Fecteau, a ninety-two-year-old retiree living alone in his own home in Waterville, was stabbed to death in his bed during a burglary. Roland L. Cummings was found guilty by a jury of the murder, along with two other crimes. Cummings appeals only from the judgment of conviction of murder entered by the court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) after a trial in which the State presented the murder charge on alternative theories- intentional or knowing murder and depraved indifference murder. Cummings argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding that he was the person who committed the murder, and in the alternative, he argues that, due to the evidence of sixteen stab wounds to Fecteau's torso, the killing was so certainly a knowing or intentional murder that the jury should not have been instructed on depraved indifference murder. Thus, he contends that the court erred in allowing the State to proceed on alternative theories. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Cummings appeals from the judgment of conviction of murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A), (B) (2016). He does not challenge his additional convictions of burglary of a dwelling (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 4Ol(1)(A), (B)(4) (2016), and theft by unauthorized taking or transfer (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §353(1)(A), (B)(6) (2016).

         [¶3] When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the jury could rationally have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to the murder conviction. See State v. Maine, 2017 ME 25');">2017 ME 25, ¶¶ 2, 28, 155 A.3d 871. On May 21, 2014, Cummings forced his way into Fecteau's home. Cummings knew Fecteau, who was the father of one of his friends. Cummings stabbed Fecteau sixteen times in the torso, causing his death; took money and jewelry; and fled. That night, Cummings sold two pieces of the stolen jewelry and used a $100 bill stolen from Fecteau to purchase drugs. He also paid a debt to an acquaintance for drugs using half-dollar coins stolen from Fecteau's home.

          [¶4] One of Fecteau's sons, after unsuccessfully trying to reach his father by phone on May 22 and 23, went to his father's house on May 23. He discovered his father's body, and the police began an investigation.

         [¶5] In June 2014, Cummings was charged by complaint with a single count of murder alleging intentional or knowing murder or depraved indifference murder. See 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A), (B). Later that month, he was charged by indictment with murder, id.; burglary of a dwelling (Class B), id. §401(1)(A), (B)(4); burglary (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §401(1)(A), (B)(2) (2016); and theft (Class C), id. § 353(1)(A), (B)(6).

         [¶6] The court held a six-day jury trial from November 12 to 19, 2015. The State's case included testimony from a Maine Crime Lab DNA analyst, who found Cummings's DNA on the out-turned pockets of Fecteau's pants and on one of the rings stolen from Fecteau. After the State presented its case, Cummings unsuccessfully moved for a judgment of acquittal on all counts. See M.R.U. Crim. P. 29(a). Cummings presented additional evidence but did not testify. With the State's consent, the court acquitted Cummings of the second burglary count.

         [¶7] Before the court instructed the jury, Cummings objected to the proposed jury instructions on murder, arguing that the evidence could not support a finding of depraved indifference, and he again moved for a judgment of acquittal. The court overruled the objection and denied the motion.

         [¶8] The State and Cummings offered closing arguments, after which the court delivered instructions to the jury orally and in writing. With respect to the murder charge, the court instructed on the alternative theories ...


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