A jury convicted a mildly mentally retarded man Wednesday of raping, scalding and torturing his disabled half-sister before their mother killed her in a case involving what the district attorney called a "level of sadism and depravity" that brought prosecutors to tears.
During a weeklong trial in Buffalo, jurors heard how Luke Wright and his mother kept 23-year-old Laura Cummings hooded and tied to a metal kitchen chair for much of the last two months of her life in their ramshackle North Collins home, outside Buffalo.
The Erie County jury deliberated about four hours before finding the 32-year-old Wright guilty on 10 criminal counts of assault, rape, incest, sodomy, endangering the welfare of an incompetent person and unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime.
Relying on Wright's own statements to police after the mother, Eva Cummings, suffocated her daughter in January 2010, prosecutors described how Wright severely burned his half-sister's face with a pot of boiling water from the stove, scalded her buttocks in a bathtub, regularly raped her and forcibly sodomized her with a broomstick. He would put a hood over her head because he said her staring bothered him.
The 4-foot-10, 100-pound victim has been described as having the mental capacity of a preteen.
"All Laura knew, especially the last couple of months of her life, was pain and torture," Assistant District Attorney Thomas Finnerty said following the verdict. He recalled the first time he read the multiple confessions Wright gave to investigators.
"I got about halfway through the second statement and I had to get up, close the door in my office and I just started crying," he said, breaking down.
Wright, he said, appeared to derive sexual pleasure from torturing his sister.
"The best day of Laura's life was the day she died," co-prosecutor Kristin St. Mary said through tears.
Through the trial, the slightly built Wright showed little emotion and remained stoic as the verdict was read.
"We knew we were dealing with a case of completely different character here," District Attorney Frank Sedita said. "A level of sadism and depravity _ the way this incredibly vulnerable girl was treated by her own family and how long that went on _ it was just off the charts."
Eva Cummings pleaded guilty in October to second-degree murder and is serving a sentence of more than 50 years to life in prison.
"They hated her precisely because of who she was, because of her disability," Finnerty said.
Prosecutors will recommend life in prison for Wright when he is sentenced May 24.
Wright's lawyer had tried to convince jurors that Wright, who cleaned stalls and did odd jobs around town, wasn't criminally responsible, telling them he's been mentally retarded since birth, was brain-damaged from childhood beatings with bricks and baseball bats, and was also a victim of his mother, whom he called "the personification of evil."
"No mother lived in that home," attorney John Nuchereno said during closing arguments Tuesday. "A devil lived in that house and had for years and years."
Nuchereno questioned the reliability of Wright's statements to police, suggesting he confessed to things he didn't do without fully understanding his legal situation. Wright's IQ of 52 puts him in the range of mild mental disability. Average IQ scores range from 85 to 115.
But Finnerty said Wright's upbringing was not an excuse and said jailhouse recordings of phone calls proved he fully understood that what he had done was wrong.
"A lot of people have been dealt a lousy hand, but people are not captive to their histories," Finnerty said. "It was his choices, his actions that made Laura Cummings a tortured prisoner in her own home."