More MS news articles for January 2000

Two who survived suicide pact now are facing felony charges

Wednesday, January 05, 2000

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A man and a woman charged with aiding each other's suicide attempts in June will undergo additional counseling over the next month before a district justice considers whether to proceed with the felony charges against them.

District Justice Mary Grace Boyle yesterday continued until Feb. 8 the preliminary hearing for Sandy Cummings and Greg Woods at the request of defense attorneys.

The delay will allow Cummings, 46, of South Park, to continue with alcohol and drug counseling on the South Side and to have an operation to repair damage to her right hand that she suffered during the June 16 suicide attempt, said her attorney, Cynthia Reed Eddy.

In addition, Cummings will have to submit to an evaluation by a psychiatrist to comply with a requirement Boyle placed on Cummings' being allowed to remain free on her own recognizance.

If all the conditions are met by the hearing next month, Eddy said she plans to ask the Allegheny County district attorney's office and South Park police to drop the felony charge of aiding a suicide that was filed against Cummings in October.

At the request of Assistant District Attorney Stephie Fernsler, Boyle yesterday also added another condition to the bond for Cummings and Woods -- they are prohibited from having any contact with each other.

"Not by phone, not in person," Boyle told Woods. "You're not to call her. Miss Cummings, you're not to call him. No contact means no contact."

Woods, 43, will spend the next six months at Alpha House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Shadyside. Woods was at Alpha House for about two months before he left in October.

A spokesman for the Hemlock Society USA in Denver, which does not endorse suicide but supports legalized physician aid in dying for terminally ill patients, said last month that he was not familiar with any other cases in which two people were charged in the other's unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Suicide in Pennsylvania, unlike in other states, is not a crime, but it is illegal to help someone else commit suicide, Eddy said. In preparing for Cummings' defense, Eddy said her legal research failed to turn up any other instances in which aiding suicide charges were filed under the 1973 state law that created the felony charge.

Cummings and Woods attempted suicide at her South Park apartment in June by taking about 200 prescription pills each, washed down with vodka. The pills belonged to Cummings and were prescribed to treat her multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.

Cummings, during an interview last month, said she decided to commit suicide because of the pain and depression from the diseases. Woods said he joined Cummings in the suicide attempt because he was also depressed by her condition and by his own alcohol and drug abuse.

Cummings and Woods were each found hours later by a maintenance man who was alerted by Cummings' mother. Each was in a coma for several days and then spent part of the summer in hospitals and rehabilitation.

No charges were filed at the time of the suicide attempt, but in late October, South Park charged Cummings with helping Woods in the suicide attempt by providing her pills to him and they charged Woods with helping Cummings attempt suicide because he did not prevent her from taking her pills.

Cummings and Woods said they felt the charges were unnecessary and served to punish them again for their suicide attempts. The charges were filed after Cummings' sister, Joyce Imling, contacted Boyle. Imling said last month that she contacted the district justice because she wanted to find out whether Boyle could help Cummings.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Bradley, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. who was at yesterday's hearing, said prosecutors are concerned mostly with the "individual welfare" of Cummings and Woods and for that reason did not oppose the continuance of the preliminary hearing.

Eddy and Assistant Public Defender Kenneth Snarey, who represents Woods, agreed.

"Our goal and the goal of the district attorney's office is to get treatment for these people," Eddy said.