Manipulation and calculation were the two words a prosecutor repeatedly used in court Friday to describe the way Brian Cummings controlled and repeatedly sexually abused an underage family member for a year and a half.
And the judge agreed. Calvert Circuit Judge Mark Chandlee gave Cummings, 41, a sentence of 25 years with all but 15 years suspended. Cummings was also ordered by the court to register as a sex offender and is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with anyone under 18.
During the two-hour hearing, the prosecution hammered the point that the abuse was not a mistake as Cummings presented, but “a calculated crime for which he prepared.”
Shortly after Cummings moved his family to Maryland for a job and settled in Lusby in late 2016, he began grooming the victim, who was 14 at the time, to isolate her and remove her from the protection of her mother, said Rebecca Cordero, assistant state’s attorney.
After the victim told her mother what happened last May, the woman called police. In a phone call recorded by police, Cummings admitted what the teenager said was true.
The prosecutor noted in court Cummings’ “impressive resume” that included a master’s in engineering and many years of professional work with top security clearance at a defense company that supports military missions. But she also called him “a highly intelligent grown man that is very manipulative.”
“He’s a grown man who took advantage of a 14-year-old in the most egregious way by assaulting her,” Cordero said. “He did not express remorse. His rationale is he didn’t plan it. He made a mistake. He’s stressed and depressed. … He did not grasp the damage he’s inflicted.”
The victim, now 16, appeared in court Friday and told the judge in tears that she could not sit in a room alone for five minutes without crying or panicking.
“He told me my own mother wouldn’t believe me,” the teen said as her mother sat next to her, also in tears. “I recently found out none of that was true. I have worth. I have a place in the world. I’m stronger than he thought I was. I’m stronger than I thought I was.”
The teen’s mother, who wrapped her arm around the teen’s shoulder throughout the hearing and at times buried her head into her daughter’s hair to silently cry, told the judge her daughter was once a hugger but now recoils at the touch of anyone.
“Brian Cummings took that away from us,” she said.
Since Cummings’ arrest nine months ago, the woman has lost primary custody of another child of hers and begun to question her ability to work as a social worker who deals with children who suffer from traumatic experiences.
“I no longer trust my instincts,” she told the judge. After all, “I’ve been devastatingly wrong before.”
At the end of the victim’s statement, the teenager thanked Cummings’ family, including his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins who were present in court.
“To Mr. Cummings’ family, I truly loved all of you,” she said. “You were the part of time I spent that was normal.”
Before addressing the court, Cummings’ father, who was held by his wife as his body shook, turned around to tell the victim and her mother that it was impossible for him to describe the sorrow and sympathy he and his wife felt for their pain. He asked the judge to consider mental health treatment for their son if warranted.
When it was his turn to speak, Cummings apologized profusely for his actions.
“Never in my life did I expect to be where I am now,” he said. “I’m sorry for past pains I caused, the pains I’m causing now and future pains that I never wanted to cause.”
Although “I’m sorry” is a phrase that doesn’t seem to be enough, Cummings said it is the most sincere phrase he could think of and asked the judge to give him a sentence that would allow him to return to society as a valuable member — as he was before.
Cummings’ lawyer John Erly first acknowledged his client’s actions were and will be inexcusable. He then went on to stress his client deserves some credit for promptly accepting responsibility.
“He immediately, repeatedly accepted his responsibility. He never fought this,” Erly said. “He admitted his guilt from the get-go.”
Erly said Cummings, who had no prior criminal background, suffered “mild depression, severe anxiety” and undiagnosed diabetes, which could impair someone’s cognitive abilities. In November 2016, shortly before the abuse started, Cummings was involved in a crash that resulted in the death of a motorcyclist, which his lawyer said overwhelmed his coping ability.
Citing two doctors’ reports, Erly said the risk of his client re-offending is very low and asked the judge to consider the rehabilitation component of a sentence.
The punishment for his client, the lawyer said, has already been “enormous.”
“He lost his family. ... He lost his job. He lost his own self-respect, the respect of his family, friends and his parents,” Erly said. “He will register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Nothing I say can change that.”
Before handing down a sentence, Chandlee expressed his strong disagreement with Cummings’ statement that it was a mistake.
“I do reject that,” he said. “These are repeated offenses that occurred to a 14- and 15-year-old girl.”
After reading the pre-sentence investigation report and letters from Cummings and his family members, the judge said he learned Cummings had a good job and a great childhood.
“He still thinks he’s a good family man, and I reject that,” Chandlee said. “He exploited his position. He’s opportunistic. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Before Friday, Cummings faced up to 100 years in prison after he pleaded guilty last August to four counts of sexually abusing a minor for an extended period of time, which carry a maximum of 25 years each. Under the plea agreement, the state’s attorney’s office agreed to seek a sentence capped at 30 years of active time.
The judge Friday allowed the four counts to be merged into one, which significantly reduced Cummings’ sentencing guidelines, after the defense lawyers filed a last-minute motion earlier in the week on the basis of the interpretation of the law that only one sentence should be permitted per victim for a continuing course of conduct.