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Wright jury must weigh tough issues; The defendant's diminished mental capacity will make the jurors' task more complicated.

No one envies the jurors in the Luke J. Wright torture trial.

On one hand, jurors will have to rehash and relive the sordid acts that Wright is accused of committing against his late half sister, Laura Cummings, including scalding, burning, rape, sexual assault and tying her to a chair.

On the other hand, jurors have to consider Wright's diminished mental capacity. While IQs often are measured in ranges, Wright's IQ has been listed as low as 52. People who are mildly mentally retarded usually have IQs ranging from 50 to 69.

"Do you really think this person had the mental capacity to do the evil acts he's accused of doing and know that [they were] wrong?" former Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark asked. "That's a tough issue for the jury."

So Wright, 32, often seen twiddling his thumbs in court in apparent disinterest as his fate is being decided, may sit near the low-functioning end of that spectrum.

That means that the jury -- or at least individual jurors -- may have to weigh two strong competing thoughts in their heads:

*That someone must pay for these horrific acts against Laura Cummings, a 23-year-old woman with developmental disabilities.

*Can this limited man be held responsible for some of the awful deeds -- like incest and having sex with an incompetent person -- that had become almost commonplace in a highly dysfunctional North Collins home?

Dueling -- and troubling -- images, indeed.

"It's a contest between the horribly distasteful nature of the case and this young man's mental capacity to form the intent necessary to commit the crime," Clark said.

Wright faces 10 charges, including physical and sexual assault, rape, incest, sexual charges and unlawful imprisonment.

At least some of the 10 charges against Wright may hinge on one key issue.

Clark, who has been reading about the case, cited the tough task that may face jurors:

"You have to try and put yourselves in the shoes of someone with his mental capacity," the former district attorney said.

The case gets even trickier when evidence comes out about the unspeakable acts routinely committed in the North Collins home, which has been labeled a house of horrors.

What if Wright, with his own limited intellect, learned all his abusive behavior from his mother, Eva Cummings? What if that was the unspoken norm in the small world of his North Collins home? What if he was another, lesser victim in that house?

But maybe that doesn't matter.

"Just because you were brought up in a house of horrors doesn't mean you should be judged by the rules in that house," said one longtime Buffalo attorney who wouldn't be quoted by name. "There can't be one set of rules for that household and another set of rules for society at large."

One obstacle that defense attorney John R. Nuchereno won't face is the possibility that by finding Wright not responsible for some of his acts, the jury would allow Laura Cummings' torture to go unpunished.

Her mother, Eva Cummings, 51, was given a virtual life sentence in November, when she was sentenced to at least 52 1/3 years in prison. She earlier had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges.

Legal observers suspect that the charge given to the jury by Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico could be a key factor in the jury's findings.

In similar cases, judges often have given jurors two issues to decide. First, whether the elements of the crime have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. And if so, was the defendant responsible or not responsible for those acts?

It's possible that Wright could be found guilty on some of the 10 counts and not responsible on others.

If the case isn't proven, Wright would be released. If he were found not responsible due to mental defect, he presumably would be turned over to mental health officials for possible continued treatment.

If found guilty, Wright would be sent to prison.

Clark said the trial already has shown how susceptible to suggestion Wright can be.

"Transfer that to a prison, where you have people with very strong personalities," Clark said. "He would be putty in their hands."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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