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  In Jail, Heiress Has Privileged Existence

Heiress on Trial
Susan Cummings hugs member of defense team after verdict.
Susan Cummings hugs a member of defense team.
(AP photo)

Key Post Stories
Polo match turns sour
Focus on polo world
Profile of her father
Trial overview
Prosecution case
Cummings testifies.
Heiress Gets 60 Days.
By Jennifer Ordonez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 1998; Page A01

For Susan Cummings, serving a sentence for voluntary manslaughter in the Fauquier County jail has not exactly been hard time.

Before the arms heiress even showed up Saturday to begin 60 days of imprisonment for killing her Argentine polo-playing lover, other prisoners were cleared out of the women's cellblock so she could pay her debt to society in private. The dorm-style room has its own telephone.

Sheriff Joseph Higgs transferred five prisoners to jails in neighboring communities -- at an estimated cost to Fauquier taxpayers of $40 per prisoner per day -- out of concern for Cummings's safety, a spokesman said. Officials said they feared that Cummings's light sentence might lead to friction with other inmates serving longer sentences for lesser crimes.

Once Cummings was inside, her jailers relaxed the rules. Prisoners generally are allowed no more than three visitors, for no more than a total of 30 minutes, and only on weekend days. Cummings, though, has been permitted to entertain multiple visitors for hours each day, said sheriff's Maj. David Flohr, who administers the facility.

And although other prisoners may eat only jail food, Cummings has been permitted to snack on a sandwich and cookies brought in by her mother and twin sister.

"All I can say is that I work for Sheriff Higgs and follow his orders," Flohr said yesterday. The sheriff, who was traveling yesterday, did not return messages left at his office and home.

The chairman of the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, David C. Mangum (R-Lee), said that he understood the decision to isolate Cummings but that he was dismayed to hear of her other privileges.

"That's not right," he said. "She should be treated like other prisoners."

"I'm outraged," said Nancy Grant, a Warrenton resident who is a receptionist at the Old Town Athletic Club a few blocks from the jail. "That's just not fair. It's because she's an heiress. I think if it was anyone else, we definitely would not get preferential treatment."

Cummings's attorney, Blair Howard, said he had made no special requests for his client. "Let me tell you, anything that they're allowing down there, that's the decision of the jail," Howard said.

Cummings, 35, had been charged with first-degree murder for shooting Roberto Villegas, 38, on Sept. 7 in the kitchen of her 350-acre estate outside Warrenton. She pleaded self-defense. The jury convicted her May 13 of voluntary manslaughter, recommending a 60-day sentence that Cummings readily accepted. "I feel very happy," she said after the trial.

Susan Cummings is accused of killing Roberto Villegas, a polo player.
Susan Cummings was convicted of killing polo player Roberto Villegas. (Courtesy Sebastian Lezica)
Flohr said yesterday that Judge Carleton Penn ordered that Cummings serve her time in Fauquier. But Commonwealth's Attorney Jonathan Lynn said he was "not aware of any specific orders" to keep Cummings in the county.

"While in jail, the conditions or privileges are entirely up to the sheriff," Lynn said. "I can't second-guess the sheriff as to how he runs his jail. It's neither here nor there, as far as we're concerned."

Women serving time in the Fauquier jail, a low-slung brick building built in the 1960s, generally share a 20-by-18-foot cell with six bunk beds attached to the wall. Maj. Roger Fraser, a spokesman for the sheriff, said the decision to transfer the five female inmates was made after some of them caused "some unrest" upon learning of Cummings's sentence.

"When you have a situation where a woman is serving 60 days after killing someone next to people serving two-year sentences for bad-check writing or forgery, it's understandable that she might not be their favorite person," Fraser said. "And a lot of these people are not in the polite realm of our society."

Fraser said four of the prisoners would have been transferred to other jails eventually anyway. But some of those who were moved said they were angry about it.

"Yes, some people were real mad when they heard about her sentence, but no one would have done anything," said Kimberly Anderson, who has 11 weeks left on an 11-month sentence for forgery and credit card theft. "She's the one serving time for killing someone, not any of us."

Anderson was shipped 25 miles to the Rappahannock jail. "Here I can't get counseling by the same person. My family can't make the trip to see me," she said. "I mean, move everybody out just for one person?"

"We were led to believe that they were afraid we might tease her or something because she's rich and we're just common folk," said Nina Daniels, 31, who was moved to the Clarke-Frederick-Winchester regional jail to finish a 20-day sentence for violating probation.

Mangum, the county board chairman, said he was somewhat mystified by the Cummings case.

"It's a strange sentence in the first place," he said. "When somebody gets 60 days for shooting someone and five years for writing bad checks, it makes you wonder about the influence that wealth has on our judicial system."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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