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Date of Issue: March 03, 2010

Cumberís appeal lacks support

Lawyers for a former Islander returned to prison for violating probation on an arson conviction dispute his reasons for appealing his sentence.

William J. Cumber, formerly of Anna Maria, was sent back to prison in May 2009 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, Cumber appealed the sentencing to the Second District Court of Appeals.

That process has moved slowly, but most recently Cumber’s lawyers — public defenders James Marion Moorman and Richard P. Albertine Jr. — filed what is known as Anders brief, which basically indicates their position that the appeal lacks merit.

Cumber has 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 has 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 recently wrote to the appeals court, “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.”

They recommended that if the appeals court finds a possibility of error in the lower court’s actions, it should appoint other counsel for Cumber or allow the defense attorneys to file another brief on his behalf.