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Jurors hear conflicting portrayals of Wright; Deliberations to start today in torture trial

Is Luke J. Wright a sadistic torturer who subjected his impaired half sister to a vicious scalding and sexual assault in their North Collins apartment more than a year ago?

Or is he a simple-minded victim himself who falsely confessed to crimes he didn't commit because he had no idea his statements to police would ultimately lead to his arrest, jailing and possible conviction?

Those are the main questions jurors in the Wright trial will begin deliberating this morning, after Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico charges them with the task of delivering a verdict on the 10-count indictment against Wright, 32.

After five days of often-disturbing testimony about the abuse and death of Wright's 23-year-old half sister, Laura Cummings, jurors listened Tuesday afternoon to closing arguments from defense attorney John R. Nuchereno and prosecuting attorney Thomas M. Finnerty of the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

"As difficult as it's been to hear all this testimony, few juries have as easy a decision to make," Finnerty said.

Wright's multiple statements to police, combined with other evidence, showed his guilt "beyond all doubt," said Finnerty.

The prosecutor also argued that Wright's own sexual abuse, mild mental retardation and upbringing by a wicked mother -- Eva M. Cummings, who was sentenced to more than 50 years for killing Laura -- should play no role in determining his guilt or innocence.

"A lot of people have been dealt a lousy hand, but people are not captive to their histories," Finnerty said.

"This defendant is no victim in this courtroom. It was his choices, his actions that made Laura Cummings a tortured prisoner in her own home."

Nuchereno painted a vastly different portrait of his client, describing Wright as a befuddled incompetent whose rambling thoughts -- sometimes made up -- and low level of functioning were the result of mental disability and being bashed on the head with a baseball bat as a youngster.

"It's not an act, it's not designed to fake anybody out. It's just who Luke Wright is," he said.

Nuchereno suggested that that Eva Cummings more likely is responsible for many of the crimes Wright is charged with committing in the Sherman Avenue apartment in North Collins where Laura Cummings was found murdered Jan. 21, 2010.

"No mother lived in that home. A devil lived in that house and had for years and years. It was the personification of evil, and it was Eva Cummings," Nucherno said. "You didn't hear a lifetime of bad by this man, to the contrary."

At one point, Nuchereno even asked the jury: "Did Luke do it, or did Eva? Eva had been moving in that direction for years and years. Luke wasn't moving in any direction."

And later on in his remarks, he said, "The devil lived in that house, and she was sick and tired of her daughter."

Nuchereno cited the testimonies of Richard Cummings and Edward Overmoyer, two other sons of Eva Cummings who grew up in the house and had explained how their mother beat Laura Cummings with all manner of objects.

"Richard verified something very important: It was always his mother who attacked Laura," Nuchereno noted. "Edward said it was always his mother who tied Laura up to the chair. Edward never saw Luke put a hood on his sister."

The prosecution focused throughout the trial on the defendant's own version of events, as spelled out in seven statements to Erie County sheriff's investigators.

But Nuchereno tried to show his client was highly suggestable and couldn't be trusted to describe or report anything accurately.

Nuchereno suggested that Wright, who was subjected to long interrogation sessions with detectives, made up stories about what he did to his half sister because he feared that the police wanted to charge him with murder.

"Luke Wright would have signed 50 statements if they put 50 in front of him," he said.

But Finnerty accused the defense of creating a smoke screen of theory and speculation to deflect blame from Wright and onto his mother.

"There is no evidence that these detectives force fed him all of these details. There's nobody alive who could come up with this," he said.

Investigators weren't the ones "providing the sickening information," said Finnerty. "They were sickened by what they heard."

The defense offered no evidence to support its theory that Wright falsely confessed in his police statements.

"It's a theory. It's a call for speculation," he said. "The judge will tell you that you can't base a verdict on speculation, on guesswork. Speculation is the enemy of justice, what you argue when you have nothing else to say."

Wright began to regret making his statements to police -- statements that are consistent with other evidence -- only after his arrest and realizing the consequences of his crimes, Finnerty said.

"The details of his confession are corroborated again and again and again," he said.

And Wright understood fully that what he had done was wrong, Finnerty added.

"His own words: 'I'll be hung for this,' " the prosecutor said. "The statements show you that he knows precisely what he's doing and the statements show you that he knows right from wrong."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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