Jury reaches split verdict By Quintin Cushner/Staff Writer Jan 22 2004 A Superior Court jury Wednesday convicted two Santa Maria sisters of conspiring to commit prostitution at their massage parlor, but acquitted them on two other charges in the high-profile case of the People vs. April and Irene Cummings. After a day of deliberation, the 12-person panel found the sisters guilty of conspiracy to commit prostitution, a felony, at the now-defunct Gentle Hands for Health, which was located on the 500 block of South Broadway. The jury acquitted both women on misdemeanor solicitation-of -prostitution charges and acquitted Irene Cummings on a felony pandering charge. The two face sentences ranging from felony probation to three years in state prison for the conspiracy conviction, according to Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Smith. Sentencing is set for Feb. 10. Irene Cummings smiled when she was acquitted of the pandering charge, but that was the only show of emotion by either side in court Wednesday. After the verdict, both sides expressed a mixture of joy and disappointment. Attorney Michael Clayton, who defended Irene Cummings, said he was happy the jury acquitted his client of pandering, but expressed disbelief the his client could be acquitted of soliciting while being convicted of the conspiracy on which it was based. Both Clayton and Michael Scott, who defended April Cummings, said they would file a motion for a new trial, which likely will be heard during the Feb. 10 hearing. Smith said she was pleased by the conspiracy conviction, and noted that it’s a challenge to prosecute prostitution cases because the defense often argues, as Scott did in this case, that a “premature arrest” was made. The Cummings case was filed Aug. 28, 2002, after a two-day undercover investigation. Santa Maria Police Sgt. Greg Carroll carried a wiretap, posed as a customer and asked the women for an “erotic” massage. According to Carroll’s testimony, the women discussed “sexually releasing” him with their hands. During the case, Smith argued that the sisters offered “sexual release” to customers in exchange for money. She said that the sisters tried to flout the law by making a distinction between their nonsexual massages, for which they charged a flat fee, and the “sexual release” they offered to clients afterwards in exchange for tips. The defense maintains the women did not demand money, and instead offered their more intimate services for tips. Since it was optional for clients to pay for the erotic massage, the defense argued, the act could not qualify as prostitution. The case seemed to take on greater significance when the Cummings sisters boasted that former Santa Maria Police Chief John Sterling was a client, and claimed to have a videotape that depicts Sterling entering their business. To date, neither they nor their attorneys have produced any evidence that the tape exists, despite reporters’ repeated requests, and Sterling has strongly denied the claim. “That tape might still be in circulation somewhere,” Clayton said Wednesday. “We still might not have heard the end of that.” April Cummings drew more attention during a Dec. 17 hearing, when she made a bold declaration about the Santa Barbara County district attorney. As that hearing reached its conclusion, April Cummings shouted, “Tom Sneddon was a client of mine!” Sneddon denied the allegation, and has said he may file suit over her court comments. Irene Cummings’ lawyer, Michael Clayton, said he met with Sneddon before April Cummings’ court outburst and was satisfied that the district attorney was never a client of the massage business. The sisters’ names made headlines again when the District Attorney’s office filed a notice Dec. 29, alleging “third party interference” in the case by Santa Maria City Attorney Art Montandon. The office claims Montandon proposed dropping prostitution charges against the pair in exchange for the alleged Sterling video. Montandon has maintained he has a right to examine the evidence, which he has said is part of an ongoing investigation he is conducting. Assistant District Attorney Christie Stanley said her office filed the notice as a way of protecting it against being adversely affected by Montandon’s actions. “Should we get a conviction, we did not want his behavior attributed to us,” Stanley said in December, when the notice was filed. As the jury panel departed after issuing its verdict, a white-haired lady juror turned to Clayton and congratulated him for his role as a local television analyst during the arraignment of Michael Jackson. It seemed a fitting end for a proceeding in which the peripheral often superseded the facts of the case. When asked about the verdict, Irene Cummings conceded that she still gives massages to paying customers, without elaborating on the details. Smith, upon hearing of Irene Cummings’ remarks, repeated that there was nothing improper about giving massages, and that this trial was about allegedly exchanging sexual acts for money. Jan. 22, 2004 :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/01/22/news/local/news01.txt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *