NATIONAL NEWS

Tennessee man who killed 8 gets life in prison in surprise plea deal after new evidence surfaces

Aug 16, 2023, 11:11 AM | Updated: 11:52 am

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man who had been facing a death penalty trial in the killings of eight people in rural Westmoreland in April 2019, including his parents, uncle and a 12-year-old girl, pleaded guilty Wednesday to eight counts of first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

The surprise plea came after Sumner County prosecutors were given brain scans of Michael Cummins that showed “significant problems,” Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley told reporters after the hearing.

Defense attorneys could have used the scans to try to convince a jury not to sentence Cummins to death, Whitley said. While he thinks prosecutors ultimately could have prevailed in securing the death penalty, he said it was a “close case.”

Judge David Gay and attorneys for both sides had travelled to Knoxville earlier this year to pick a jury pool ahead of an April trial date when the new evidence was revealed, forcing a delay, Gay said in court Wednesday. Gay had ruled after a January hearing that Cummins did not have an intellectual disability. It is illegal in Tennessee to execute someone with an intellectual disability.

Families of the victims agreed to the plea agreement, which brings finality and serves justice, Whitley said.

At the time of the 2019 killings, Cummins was close to being arrested for probation violations. He was on probation after serving 16 months of a 10-year sentence on a conviction for attempting in September 2017 to burn down a neighbor’s house and assaulting her when she tried to put out the fire.

On Wednesday, Whitley presented the state’s evidence, saying the proof at trial would have shown Cummins first killed James Fox Dunn Jr. on April 17, 2019, whose home was burned and rifle was stolen. Several days later on April 24, Cummins killed 69-year-old Shirley Fehrle, a retired nurse who had been sitting at home reading a book and watching a movie. Prosecutors believe Cummins did not know Fehrle and killed her in order to steal her car, a black Kia that Cummins’ was later seen driving and officers found stuck in a stream.

The following day, Cummins killed six people inside a trailer home, including his parents and uncle. His grandmother was wounded but survived. All eight victims died from blunt force and sharp force trauma to the head and face, Whitley said. When Cummins was captured walking out of the woods, he was carrying a hatchet with a blade on one side and a flat surface on the other, he said.

Killed in the trailer home were Cummins’ parents, 51-year-old David Cummins and 44-year-old Clara Cummins, and his 45-year-old uncle Charles Hosale. Also killed were Hosale’s girlfriend, 43-year-old Rachel McGlothlin-Pee and her mother 64-year-old Marsha Nuckols. The youngest victim was McGlothlin-Pee’s daughter, 12-year-old Sapphire McGlothlin-Pee.

Cummins’ grandmother, Mary Sue Hosale, was 67 at the time of the attack and survived. She later died of other causes, Whitley said.

Whitley said the evidence shows Sapphire was killed much later in the day than the others. School bus video and witness statements show Cummins ran to the trailer to intercept her as she returned from school. All of the other victims except for Sapphire’s mother appear to have been killed while they were sleeping earlier that morning, he said.

“They were caught off guard, and the brutality of the attack did not allow them a chance to fight back,” Whitely told the judge. He added “There was some evidence that Rachel tried to fight back, some evidence of a struggle.”

Sapphire’s father, Anthony West, was in the courtroom Wednesday but asked Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Nichols to make a brief statement for him.

“He just wanted me to say how much he misses her, how much he loved her, and what a loss this is that you can never recover from,” Nichols said.

James Dunn’s nephew Connor Dunn and brother Brad Dunn also spoke.

Connor Dunn said he and his father acted as de facto caretakers for his uncle, who lived alone and off-the-grid in the woods. They would make regular visits to make sure he had everything he needed. Connor Dunn remembers his uncle as someone who cared for all living things and was an amazing tennis player. In a perfect world, he would have been a park ranger, Connor Dunn said.

“He was not your typical brother, or neighbor or citizen,” Brad Dunn said, describing his older brother as intelligent, articulate and well-read. When Brad Dunn was younger, his older brother once jumped into a hotel swimming pool fully clothed to save him from drowning.

“He was a peaceful person who loved the outdoors and loved solitude,” Brad Dunn said. “It all ended with a brutal and senseless murder.”

Steve McGlothlin, brother of Rachel McGlothlin-Pee and son of Marsha Nuckols, began choking up as soon as he started talking.

“Your mother is the one that is sort of like the glue — she holds the family together,” he said. “I regret that I didn’t spend more time with her. My sister as well.”

“I’m at a loss for words,” McGlothlin said. “I’d like to know why, but obviously we’ll never find that out.”

National News

Associated Press

Man who attacked author Salman Rushdie charged with supporting terrorist group

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A man who severely injured author Salman Rushdie in a frenzied knife attack in western New York faces a new charge that he supported a terrorist group. An indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on Wednesday charges Hadi Matar with providing material support to Hezbollah, a militant group based […]

4 minutes ago

FILE - The Disneyland Resort entrance is seen, March 9, 2021, in Anaheim, Calif. Disney has reached...

Associated Press

Disney reaches tentative agreement with California theme park workers

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Disney has reached a tentative agreement with four unions representing thousands of workers at its California theme parks, including ride operators, candy makers and parking attendants. The coalition of unions said early Wednesday that its 14,000 workers will get to vote on the deal on Monday. No other details were immediately […]

15 minutes ago

Associated Press

Man gets life without parole in 1988 killing and sexual assault of woman in Boston

BOSTON (AP) — A man was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the killing of a woman whose body was found in the basement of a Boston building more than three decades ago. DNA evidence linked Carl Vega, 61, to the 1988 killing of 21-year-old Judy Chamberlain, prosecutors said. A maintenance worker discovered […]

43 minutes ago

FILE - U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., listens during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee...

Associated Press

Former University of Florida president will return on an interim basis Ben Sasse’s resignation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A former University of Florida president will take back the role on an interim basis following ex-U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse’s unexpected announcement last week that he was stepping down from the job after his wife was diagnosed with epilepsy. The school’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to bring back Kent Fuchs, […]

1 hour ago

FILE - United States' Jonathon Lillis (11) competes in a men's World Cup freestyle aerials event at...

Associated Press

Winter Olympians will compete at these 13 venues when the Games return to Salt Lake City in 2034

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Winter Olympics will make its grand return to Salt Lake City in 2034, the International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday, marking the success of Utah’s decades-long effort to preserve Olympic venues and retain public enthusiasm. Local leaders have had their sights set on hosting again — and becoming part of […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport briefly evacuated because of escalator fire

NEW YORK (AP) — A terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was briefly evacuated Wednesday because of an escalator fire, officials said. The fire at JFK’s Terminal 8 was reported at around 7 a.m., Fire Department of New York officials said. No injuries were reported. A spokesperson for the Port Authority of […]

2 hours ago

Tennessee man who killed 8 gets life in prison in surprise plea deal after new evidence surfaces