Plea deal in child abuse case

Thursday, June 02, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — A Belchertown woman who faced child abuse charges agreed to a plea deal Tuesday requiring her to testify against her former boyfriend, who is set to face trial for allegedly beating the woman’s infant daughter.

Melonie K. Cummings, 29, pleaded guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to being an accessory to a crime after the fact and to misleading police. Judge Daniel Ford accepted the plea deal, which includes Cummings serving 18 months in prison followed by four years of probation.

The crimes resulted from an incident that involved Cummings’ infant daughter being admitted to the hospital in November 2014 with bruises across her face and ears after the baby was in the care of her then-boyfriend, Keith A. Truehart.

Cummings told first responders that the child suffered the injuries after falling on a toy. But the injuries were inconsistent with a fall, said a doctor who treated the child. The baby also had fractured ribs that were healing, and bruising inside her ear, which is consistent with child abuse, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Caleb Weiner said.

Truehart last year appeared on the state’s “most wanted list” after being sought by police for seven months. In June, state police searched Cummings’ home and found Truehart under the kitchen sink in a makeshift hideout made of wood and sheetrock.

In court Tuesday, Cummings admitted to helping hide Truehart in her home.

A similar plea deal was rejected in March by Judge Richard Carey because it did not include a guarantee that Cummings would testify against Truehart.

As part of her probation, Cummings is not allowed to have contact with her daughter except if authorized by the state Department of Children and Families. Her daughter’s paternal grandmother is set to adopt the child.

Following the rejection, Weiner said he and a Belchertown detective met with Cummings at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee, where she was being held. During the meetings, Cummings provided information that Weiner said could help the district attorney’s case against Truehart. She also agreed to testify against him if he goes to trial.

“There was a sense that there was some pretty substantial remorse,” Weiner said of Cummings.

Cummings was sentenced to 18 months in jail, with credit for the 351 days she has served.

The maximum penalty for conviction of being an accessory after the fact is seven years in state prison. Misleading police carries a 10-year maximum sentence.

Cummings is required to be available to testify against Truehart, whose trial is set to begin in June.

Cummings did not speak during Tuesday’s proceedings except to answer the judge’s questions. But her attorney, John W. Drake, of Northampton, said that Cummings understands the consequences of her actions – the loss of her child, her home and her freedom.

“She fully understands what she did,” he said. “She certainly has no allegiance now to Mr. Truehart.”

Cummings had also been charged with permitting injury to a child. That charge was dropped as part of the agreement between prosecutors and Drake.

Cummings is also required to have no unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16 unless approved by the child’s caregiver. She must abstain from drugs and alcohol and submit to random drug and alcohol screenings.