From Bald Truth Staff, (c) www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
By Art Harris, The Bald Truth, (c) www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
Ronald Cummings was sentenced to 15 years in prison on drug trafficking charges Friday in Putnam County Circuit Court, as Circuit Judge Terry Larue ratified a plea deal worked out earlier with prosecutorsâ€”dropping two of five counts with 25 year minimums and fining the father of missing five year old Haleigh Cummings a total of $250,000.
He will serve three counts of 15 years, to run concurrently, that break down this way: three years and a $50,000 fine on one charge, another 15 years and a $100,000 fine on another, and 15 years and $100,000 fine on a third. He faced a possible 70 years if sentenced to the max on all charges.
The concurrent sentences mean he faces 15 years total.
Art Harris on HLN’s The Nancy Grace Show
“We’ll go in and argue for 15 years and hope that’s what he gets,” his attorney, Terry Shoemaker told me earlier in an exclusive interview with The Bald Truth.
Before the judge announced his sentence, Shoemaker called Cummings mother, Teresa Neves, as a character witness. She asked him to be lenient, saying, “He is a good father, he has two children. We might not know where one is, but he has two children.”
Outside, First Coast News reported Crystal Sheffield, Haleigh’s mother, and other family members in the courthouse parking lot, crying. All said they believed the sentence was too short.
So did members of Croslin’s family. “I don’t see how it’s fair at all,” Misty’s sister in law, Chelsea Croslin, told The Bald Truth Friday. “Misty kept changing her story, and it always benefited Ronald. That’s why he’d always say, “I believe Misty.’ I think she’s scared to death to tell what she knows. No one seems interested at all in even hearing what she might have to say. There are a lot of things in her story that don’t add up, but I think she’s changed it because Ronald threatened her. I still think she’s protecting Ronald out of fear.”
Even Shoemaker said stealing Haleigh because cousin Joe couldn’t find a machine gun didn’t add up. But little in this case does.
Shoemaker said his client’s prison time was shortened after he agreed to testify against ex wife, Misty Croslin, in her drug case (she plead no contest, so he never had to), and help investigators solve the presumed murder of his missing daughter, five year old Haleigh Cummings.
“From the moment I came on board, we’ve been open to speaking with investigators regarding Haleigh’s case,” Shoemaker tells me, “we’ve met with them numerous times. Ronald has talked about the phone calls he made that night, the time lines, his relationship with everyone involved…who he thinks is involved. He’s told them everything they’ve wanted to know.”
Officials decline to detail their discussions, but we’ve all heard jail tapes of one investigator pumping Cummings up as their Redneck Romeo, regaling him with their Misty interrogation, that he was the only topic that made her cry.
The strategy, sources tell me has always been to do whatever it takes to make Croslin hit rock bottom, isolated, alone, needy and desperate enough to do something like deal drugs and get busted, providing the kind of leverage investigators figure they needed to psyche out the one person they maintain still holds the key to unlocking the Haleigh mysteryâ€”the ex babysitter who reported the five year old missing Feb. 9, 2009.
After flunking several polygraphs, she now maintains a Tennessee cousin, with her brother, Tommy, in tow, dropped by to steal Cummings’ prized WW II machine gun, that night. She says the cousin, Joe Overstreet, grew angry when he couldn’t find it, snatched Haleigh instead, menaced Misty with a knife and threatened to kill her family if she talked. Even her grandmother, Flora Hollars, tells me Overstreet threatened her after she dissed him as a possible suspect.
As for Misty, sources tell me she’s told investigators Tommy later took her to the St. John’s River and pointed out where Overstreet allegedly dumped the body. Overstreet denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer calls him a convenient family scapegoat.
But Croslin’s Joe-came to steal the machine gun claim may have earned a smidgen of credibility based on exclusive new details learned by The Bald Truth: sources close to the case tell me law enforcement has recovered a vintage World War II machine gun in a green Army duffle bag they believe belonged to Cummings.
“That’s exactly how Tommy described it,” Steve Brown, ex FBI agent turned private eye, tells The Bald Truth. “He called it an old â€˜Army type machine gun.’ When he said â€˜old,’ I was thinking M-16, like Vietnam. But he meant really â€˜old,’ and it was old.”
“What it means is that the machine gun is real,” Steve Brown goes on, adding that his law enforcement contacts advised him they’d retrieved it from a Putnam County drop site after an anonymous tipster heard they were looking for it and phoned in directions to the gun. Other sources tell me a Cummings relative was harboring the illegal weapon for Ronald. “The only thing Misty was wrong about was the color of the bag. She said it was black. Maybe Joe had a black coat over it when he left.”
Last month, a Putnam County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said he had no information about any machine gun recovered related to the Haleigh Cummings case. Asked whether it was the weapon family members tell me Ronald showed off over beers, Shoemaker declined to confirm or deny the machine gun was found or even existed, insisting Ronald denied ever showing a machine gun to Overstreet.
“I can’t comment on it,” he told me. “If someone is telling you that, I don’t know here they got the information. But if your sources are good, they may not be far from the truth.”
About a week before then girlfriend, Misty Croslin, reported his five year old daughter, Haleigh, missing, Cummings was showing off a prized gun collection to Tommy Croslin, and his cousin Joe from Antioch, Tennessee, family members tell The Bald Truth.
“Ronald was usually very secretive about his guns, but that night they were all drinking beer and getting along, so he pulled them out,” Chelsea Croslin tells me in an exclusive interview. She says she fell asleep with husband Timmy, Misty’s other brother, and that Joe took her phone and the van to pick up brother Tommy and go to the trailer with machine guns on his mind.
“My phone records show call Joe called his girlfriend, Jennifer, between six and 9 p.m. that night,” says Chelsea. She was planning to drive him back to Tennessee the next day, sources close to the case tell me. “Tommy called Joe about 10 p.m.,” Chelsea adds, and apparently took the van and picked up Tommy.
While Tommy has changed his story more than runway models change clothes, his ex wife, Lindsay, maintains he was home with the kids when she returned from nursing school about 10:15 p.m. and they had dinner and went to bed. She says if he left, she never heard him.
“She’s adamant,” says Chelsea, “but I have letters contradicting her time line. I’m just not able to explain” the differences.
“I’ve heard about the machine gun from day one,” Misty Croslin attorney Robert Fields tells The Bald Truth. “If they’ve found it, that’s important, and it should help Misty. It’s the one consistent thing in both Misty and Tommy’s accounts. I heard someone called in and said, â€˜You can pick up the gun at a certain location.”
But neither Fields or Tommy Croslin attorney James Werter can demand to examine the automatic weapon because there is no discovery yet for an unsolved murder with no body, no weapon and no suspects charged with a crime. “Haleigh is still under investigation, and investigators don’t have to share any evidence while an investigation is active,” says Fields.
We can’t confirm whether Cummings has identified the machine gun, but can reveal it’s said to be fully automatic, an illegal weapon to own if not registered with the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It might indeed qualify as a “relic,” or collectible since it was manufactured more than 50 years ago, but since convicted felons can’t legally pack, it’s doubtful Ronald, if he’s indeed the owner, will be claiming the killer antique anytime soon.
Asked if the ATF has come by or called, Shoemaker tells me, We’ve not heard from anyone inquiring about pressing gun charges against my client.”
Remember, it was Misty, then the 17 year old babysitter, who reported Haleigh missing just after Cummings walked into the Satsuma, Florida trailer home from the night shift about 3:45 a.m. in Feb. 2009. So far, sources say law enforcement can’t shake his alibi, backed up by cell phone tower pings, co workers and thumb print scan check-ins, and still maintain Misty holds the key to what happened to Haleigh.
A month after his daughter vanished, Cummings married Croslin, later explaining his love logic to me over fried grouper and sweet tea at MeMa’s cafÃ©, that if she left town, he might never find out what happened to his daughter. “You keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” he told The Bald Truth.
If he held her in such his suspicion, Chelsea Croslin wonders how the whole familiy could be so celebratory with Misty in New York so close to Haleigh’s disappearance. “I was shocked when I found the family album,” she says, referring to photos published here showing Ron and Misty touching tongues, and a happy family portrat of the lovebirds, Ronald’s mother, Teresa, and his grandmother.
So many mixed messages, so many conflicting accounts. For instance, Shoemaker tells me Ronald maintains he never called Tommy to check on Misty, but called her house to see if she was there since she wasn’t picking up her phone. She has offered assorted reasons, from the battery died, to she didn’t want to talk to Ronald since she’d just returned from a three day drugs and sex binge and he wasn’t happy she’d been with an African American nicknamed White Boy Greg (Page).
The Bald Truth has learned that Page is now cellmates with Misty’s father, Hank Croslin, Sr., who once dissed him for his role in further “corrupting” his daughter, but now calls him a “pretty nice guy,” his wife, Lisa Croslin, tells me in a phone chat. She also relates her husband claims Cummings is still selling drugsâ€”from behind bars, that he has friends who smuggle pills into the jail via balloons hidden in body cavities.
“I’ve not heard that rumor,” says Putnam County Sheriff spokesman Lt. Johnny Greenwood, “but it’s hard for that to be happening, or next to impossible, when for the last two months we’ve been doing only video visitation. No one comes to the jail in person to see an inmate. They talk by phone.” He was curious about the time frame, but said such an allegation has so little merit in his mind, the department would not even talk to Croslin about it.
“Hank told me an inmate pushes the balloon under the door to the pod and inmates pass it around, taking pills out,” says Lisa Croslin. But she claims her husband is staying clean, “and can’t wait to get out. He just stays in his cell, eats, goes out for a drink of water and sleeps most of the time.”
Shoemaker scoffs at such pill-smuggling claims as ridiculous, as well, sour grapes, natural family enmity born of drugs, feuds and violence. Indeed, Lisa Croslin tells me guards are careful to make sure Hank and Ronald don’t cross paths on the yard, where Croslin relays to me via family that he hears Cummings cursing and taunting him, screaming he hopes Misty “gets what’s coming to her” and “gets what Haleigh got!” Or, if he sees Hank in the yard, yelling from his cell window, “that’s Misty’s father, someone needs to do to him what Misty did to Haleigh!”
In the war of curses and credibility between thugs, Bad Dads and drug dealers, Shoemaker argues how “Tommy has changed his story from going to the trailer at 10 p.m. on Ronald’s behalf to going there later with Joe to steal a machine gun. Based on my conversations with Ronald, he wasn’t concerned if Misty was there. He kept calling because it went straight to voice mail and he assumed she turned off the phone because she wasn’t there.”
He also says Teresa Neves denies Misty ever offered to pay her to babysit. “Teresa has remarked that â€˜if she’d called and asked me, I would have done it.'”
Shoemaker recalls one meeting between his client and investigators on Aug. 3, when FDLE agent Travis Smith, an unnamed assistant state attorney, Putnam County Sheriff’s Detectives John Merchant and Peggy Cone. “We talked a little bit about everything, from the drug charges to time lines for Haleigh,” he says.
Cummings’ attorney was so comfortable about the arrangement, he tells me he gave investigators virtual carte blanche to interview his client–without his physical presence. “They’d call and I’d say, â€˜Go ahead.'” Other accounts have investigators questioning how helpful his client has really been, and cite post-Haleigh behaviour as atypical of a father grieving off camera. Sources in town tell me they’ve seen him emptying find Haleigh search jars at area convenience stores, demanding special treatment like free meals and drinks.
Before he was busted for drugs, one witness tells me a check for about $200 worth of food and drinks landed on his table at Chili’s. Cummings insisted it must be a mistake, asking the server, “Don’t you know who I am?” Copping an attitude, he demanded it be comped, and it was.
“He used to brag about it,” says Chelsea Croslin, embittered at what she calls a plea deal sweeter than Satsuma iced tea. “He’d say, ‘I get everything free because people know I’m Haleigh’s Dad.’ After the first couple of days of Haleigh being gone, he was acting totally different than he did on TV,” like he’d gotten over it…I just don’t see how he can get 15 years and he had five charges, and Tommy (Croslin) gets 15 years for one” that his lawyer says would usually bring less than half that for a low profile case.
Before we finished our interview, I asked Terry Shoemaker, “Does Cummings believe Misty is a killer?
“He has no idea what happened to Haleigh,” said his lawyer. “Whether she had something to do with it, he doesn’t know. But he does believe she holds the answers.”
Let us now what you think about Cummings 15 year sentence…