A man charged with raping his mentally disabled half-sister before she was killed by their mother didn't understand his rights while being questioned by investigators because he's been mentally retarded since birth and was left brain-injured by childhood beatings with a metal baseball bat, his lawyer said Thursday.
Attorney John Nuchereno said Luke Wright's trial shouldn't include what the 31-year-old farmhand told police following his sister's death in a case of torture and abuse described by prosecutors as the worst they've seen.
Erie County Court Judge Michael D'Amico reserved decision on the request following a hearing.
Wright's mother, Eva Cummings, was sentenced in November to 57 years to life in prison after admitting she suffocated 23-year-old Laura Cummings inside the family's ramshackle home in North Collins, outside Buffalo, on Jan. 21, 2010.
Investigators said Laura Cummings, who had the mental capacity of a preteen, spent days and nights tied to a chair with a hood over her head and was repeatedly raped, beaten and scalded and had her face pushed into feces. She'd been abused since she was a child, but the torture escalated in the two years before her death, authorities found.
Wright is charged with rape, incest, committing a criminal sexual act, assault, predatory sexual assault, unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime and endangering the welfare of a disabled person.
Nuchereno, who is pursuing a psychiatric defense for Wright based on his alleged mental defects, has said Wright was the victim of the same "house of horrors" as Laura Cummings, enduring years of baseball bat beatings to his head as a teen at the hand of his stepfather.
When questioned by police after his sister's death, Wright had no idea he was suspected of any crime and didn't know he was forgoing his right to have a lawyer with him when he agreed to answer questions after being read his Miranda rights, the lawyer said.
"Luke couldn't even begin to understand the meaning of those rights," Nuchereno said following testimony by several Erie County Sheriff's investigators involved in questioning Wright.
Det. Jack Graham said Wright was not under arrest and never asked for a lawyer during repeated meetings over several days, was cooperative and respectful and seemed to comprehend the questioning process.
"He spontaneously told us that when he was 18 he was raped by his uncle and his uncle was his mother's brother," the detective said. At one point, Wright walked investigators through the family home, pointing out kitchen chairs Cummings had been tied to and describing a gag his mother had used on her that she'd fashioned out of cloth and shoelaces. He said he'd had sex with Laura Cummings a few years earlier, Graham said.
"He told us a couple of times it made him feel good" to talk, the investigator said. "He referred to his counselors and said it helped talking to us."
Wright faces up to life in prison if convicted.