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Court affirms Cumber’s conviction

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

William Cumber III appears in a courtroom in Bradenton Feb. 24 on a violation of probation charge. Islander Photo: Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald

Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed earlier this month a lower court ruling that sent William J. Cumber back to prison.

The former Islander was returned to prison in May 2009 for violating probation on an arson conviction.

Cumber challenged the prison sentence, but even his attorneys disputed his reasons for an appeal.

Cumber, formerly of Anna Maria, was sent back to prison to serve a 13.5-year sentence for violating probation on a 2006 arson conviction.

Cumber admitted to violating probation, but said there were mitigating circumstances that should result in leniency in his sentencing.

The events that drove him to violate probation — to be caught in another county behind the wheel of a truck without a valid license — are directly linked to the investigation into missing Haley’s Motel-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, according to Cumber.

Cumber was Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend in November 2008, when she was reported missing. He provided authorities with her last known whereabouts. He said the two of them were in their rented apartment on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria Nov. 4, 2008, when they argued and she left.

As authorities investigated her disappearance as a likely homicide and the arson fire that destroyed a building at the motel complex in late 2008, Cumber was repeatedly questioned and eventually identified as a person of interest in the cases.

Cumber said he despaired. He lost work, lost friends, lost his apartment and eventually, he told the court last year, he felt compelled to leave the area.

Cumber was arrested Dec. 22, 2008, near Ocala in Marion County. He was driving a pickup truck with an expired tag and without a valid license. He served 10 days in the Marion County jail before being transferred to the Manatee County jail to face a judge on a charge that he violated probation by leaving the county without permission and for being arrested on a new offense.

Last spring, Cumber admitted to violating probation and was sentenced to 13.5 years in state prison.

Soon after, he appealed the sentencing to the district court.

In the spring, Cumber’s lawyers — public defenders James Marion Moorman and Richard P. Albertine Jr. — filed what is known as an Anders brief, which indicated their position that the appeal lacks merit.

Cumber had asked for relief from the court on the grounds that his conviction was obtained by the unconstitutional failure of the prosecution to disclose evidence favorable to him, that the conviction violated the protection against double jeopardy and that the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence.

Further, Cumber alleged mental scare tactics, persuasion, neglect by his probation officer, opinionated prosecution, publicity swayed opinion, cruel and unusual punishment and improper counsel.

Regarding the last allegation, Cumber alleged, that his “lawyer didn’t argue certain argumentative arguments that would of possibly helped the judge understand certain over-exaggerated circumstances presented by the prosecution.”

But Cumber’s defense attorneys in the case wrote to the district court, stating, “Despite a thorough reading of the record on appeal and a review of the law on arguable points, the undersigned appellate counsel can find no meritorious argument to support the contention that the trial court committed significant reversible error in this case.”

Earlier this month, the district court issued its finding affirming the circuit court’s ruling. The court did not write an opinion.

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