In Hummel Re-trial . . . Victim’s Brother Details Abuse, Threats
CLEARFIELD – During day two of the Edward Hummel murder re-trial, a jury of 10 men and two women learned about the violent dynamics of the once-convicted shooter’s relationship with his wife before the commonwealth rested its case Wednesday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
Edward Hummel, 55, of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview and formerly of Morrisdale has been charged with criminal homicide and accused of murdering his wife, Debra Hummel on Nov. 22, 1991. Hummel allegedly shot his wife in her left cheek region of her face in the basement of their residence with a 45-caliber, semi-automatic pistol.
Then, Hummel turned the murder weapon on himself in a failed attempt to commit suicide. He survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1993. But in 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated his original conviction and granted Hummel a second trial.
The court ruled that his defense attorney didn’t effectively contend the defendant’s competency for being on trial after he’d sustained severe brain injuries because of his suicide attempt, which has left him paraplegic. In 2010, Hummel was declared competent to stand trial a second time, which began Tuesday before the Honorable Judge Paul E. Cherry.
The victim’s brother, Leonard Martin Jr. said that approximately one week before the alleged murder, Edward Hummel stopped by his body shop in Houtzdale. The defendant wanted to speak with him outside, and he followed him to the parking lot. Martin said Edward Hummel wanted to “show him why he was always pissed off.”
Martin said his sister was sitting in the vehicle with her head down. She was crying. He said Edward Hummel threatened to shoot his sister, and he told the defendant if he ever harmed his sister, he would have to answer to him. At that point, he said Edward Hummel threatened to kill his sister, his entire family and then himself.
“And, he just grinned,” Martin said. Under cross-examination, he estimated the conversation occurred around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, 1991, one week and one day before his sister’s alleged murder. When questioned he told the jury he regarded the defendant’s statements as a threat. He reported it to police after his sister’s death.
He said he first reported it to members of his immediate family, such as his parents and siblings. In addition, he was concerned about protecting his sister and offered to fly her anywhere and purchase a home for her. But if she left, Martin said his sister feared her husband would kill her family.
“We couldn’t get involved with Deb’s affairs, because he was controlling, possessive and very abusive. We were always on our tip toes,” he said. “We were trying to help her; we wanted her clear of him.”
According to Martin, Edward Hummel never permitted his sister and her daughters to visit the Martin family. He and his brother once wanted to physically remove her from her home with Edward Hummel. However, their mother begged them not to, fearing the defendant would kill someone.
“We knew his demeanor with abuse and threats, so our actions weren’t stupid or dumb,” Martin told defense attorney H. David Rothman, who later asked the witness if he “kicked himself” and “felt like an idiot” for not going to authorities after his sister was shot and killed by his client. Shaw objected to Rothman’s question, which the judge sustained.
Under re-direct, Martin said he begged his sister to leave and go to Alaska, where they had family. Again, he said she feared the defendant would kill someone if she left and only gave herself a 5 percent chance if she stayed. He said the Martin family never went to the police, because they didn’t know what it might trigger with the defendant.
“And, our ultimate fear came true,” he said.
After the commonwealth rested, Rothman declined his opportunity for opening statements to the jury. Instead he called Russ and Pauline Hummel, the parents of Edward Hummel, to testify. Both parents said they weren’t aware of any problems between the couple and hadn’t heard any such complaints from the Martin family.
Russ Hummel said his son and the victim frequented family get-togethers for holidays and birthdays, which he has many videos and still photographs of. Oftentimes he said Debra Hummel and his granddaughters visited his home alone, and her daughters never complained about their father being violent toward their mother.
On Nov. 22, 1991, Russ Hummel said he was asked to pick up his son’s daughters, Lena and Janelle at approximately 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. They all went to his home in Wallaceton and his son was there. Both Russ and Pauline said that Edward Hummel was at the residence and left a suicide note on the counter. The note read, “Your mom cheated on me. It’s what killed us. Lena and Janelle, I love you, Dad. I’m so sorry.”
Pauline Hummel said she learned her son had killed his wife from him the evening of the alleged murder. She wasn’t certain how long it’d occurred before he’d left his suicide note on her kitchen counter. She feared her son would kill himself, as he had a gun in his pocket and appeared agitated.
According to her, she attempted to stop him, but he wanted left alone and eventually left her residence. “I knew he was going to shoot himself. I just knew it,” she said. At some point after their son left that evening, she went with her husband to their son’s residence. They observed his vehicle in the woods approximately one-quarter to a half-mile from his residence, went back home for flashlights and returned expecting to find him in the woods. They didn’t, however.
Both Russ and Pauline Hummel said there weren’t any lights on at the residence, which they found locked. Russ Hummel said he’d assumed the “worse” had happened, and they didn’t attempt to enter. After taking Pauline home, he said he went to the Clearfield-based state police barracks in Woodland.
Under cross-examination, Pauline Hummel testified that she’d received a phone call from Edward Hummel around 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1991. In the background, she could hear Debra Hummel pleading for her to come to their residence. She said she and Russ Hummel were en route when they passed their son coming in the opposite direction without Debra.
In other testimony for the commonwealth:
Trooper James C. Fleming, a former criminal investigator with the Clearfield-based state police, told the jury that Russ Hummel, the defendant’s father, contacted them, stating his son had shot his wife, and they couldn’t locate him.
Fleming said the state police, including himself, proceeded to the residence, which sat some distance from the driveway. At arrival there weren’t any lights on inside, and the residence was locked. However, fellow troopers observed a body lying on the floor. Fleming kicked in the back door and cleared the top floor.
According to him, the troopers descended upon the basement area and discovered two individuals in a pool of blood. He said a male and female were lying facing up approximately one foot or less apart. Both appeared to be deceased until the male made sounds and moved.
“It was surprising to us all that he was alive. They were lying in a huge pool of blood,” Fleming said, adding the weapon was observed in the crotch area of the male. Troopers immediately removed the weapon from him and discovered a live round in the chamber with the hammer in the cocked position ready to fire.
Fleming said the male had sustained a gunshot to the head, and emergency medical services were immediately summoned to remove him. He said the female had sustained a gunshot wound to the left side of her face, which was black and blue and swollen. In surveying the basement, he said it didn’t appear that the couple had been fighting.
Jeffrey Rhone, who then served as the deputy coroner, testified that he arrived at the murder scene at approximately 9:20 p.m. Nov. 22, 1991. There, a female was deceased in the basement area and surrounded by state troopers. He couldn’t get near or touch the victim’s body, because the crime scene was being processed.
Rhone said the victim was identified as Debra Hummel, 34, at the scene, and he estimated she died at approximately 5 p.m. However, he said it could have been earlier or later depending up the conditions and cause of death, which was a gunshot wound to the head. Rhone listed her manner of death as a homicide when completing the death certificate.
Dr. John Hiserodt, a medical doctor and pathology expert, performed the autopsy on Debra Hummel at the Alleghany County Coroner’s Office. During the victim’s external examination, he observed “significant” injuries with the primary one being a gunshot wound in the left cheek area. Also, he noted several areas of bruising and abrasions on her face/head area.
During the internal examination, Hiserodt characterized the gunshot would as an “eccentric abrasion,” meaning the bullet struck the victim obliquely and entered at an angle. In addition, he didn’t observe any “powder tattooing,” or burning, which is caused by gun fire and easily observed with shots fired within close range. Outside a two-foot range, he said little if any powder tattooing occurs.
According to Hiserodt, the bullet entered the left check area of Debra Hummel, and from there, it passed through the front skull and into her brain. It then traveled into the back skull and became caught in the scalp. He said the bullet would have been traveling upward and at an angle from left to right.
Other than the gunshot wound, Hiserodt said the victim sustained about five large areas of purple bruising around her left eye and in her cheek and face area as well as two linear scratches. From the front, he observed a scratch on the bridge of her nose, where there was additional bruising caused by one or potentially two blows.
Debra Hummel had bruising on her upper chest, which Hiserodt said indicated a punch to this region. So far as her extremities, he said he’d observed a circular bruise on her left ring finger, where a ring would have been worn. He didn’t observe a wedding band at the time he performed the autopsy.
Hiserodt told the jury that these injuries weren’t fatal but were certainly capable of causing unconsciousness. However, he said neither concussions nor indicators of them appear during the autopsy. Hiserodt said the bruising would have occurred before the shooting, as the heart must be beating to push blood through the capillaries to cause bruises to form.
“A bruise takes time. You cannot bruise a body after death. The gunshot wound was immediately fatal,” Hiserodt said. Under cross-examination, he told Rothman that he couldn’t determine how much time elapsed between the bruising and the fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Cpl. David Burlingame, a forensic firearm and tool expert, testified to examining the murder weapon and analyzing two evidence bullets. In his testing, he said the firearm never accidentally fired because of a mechanical malfunction, and it worked properly. After test firing the 45-caliber pistol, he determined the two submitted evidence bullets came from the submitted firearm.
The re-trial continues today at 9 a.m.