Suspect in Death of Baby Has Backers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Reseda mother and PTA president, charged with murdering an infant she cared for in her home and also under investigation in the death of another baby, was described Monday as a "caring and sweet" baby-sitter who is loved by children and still trusted by their parents.

About two dozen parents, friends and relatives came to a bail review hearing to show support for Debra Suzanne Cummings, 32, who is charged with murdering Kevin Young, a 9-month-old whom Cummings had cared for almost daily for six months.

He died on June 16 of skull fractures suffered in Cummings' home.

Cummings told police the baby fell against a coffee table but a coroner's report said that the injuries "were inconsistent with" that explanation and that the baby appeared to have been hit with a hand or fist.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office concluded that Kevin died of blunt-force trauma to the head, resulting in two fractures to the back of his skull.

Cummings sat quietly with her hands folded as half a dozen parents testified that they would not hesitate to leave their children with Cummings despite the murder charge she faces. She began to cry quietly as friends and relatives stood to recite their names for the court record.

"I have a child 3 years old who will not be left with anybody but Debbie," said Cathy Clebanoff, a mother of three.

"My children request to be with her," said another parent, Monica Marcial, who said she has left her three children with Cummings on about 15 occasions.

"She's very caring. Very caring and sweet," testified Doris Apperson, who said Cummings has been caring for her 5-year-old son, Jason, since he was 18 months old. "He never wanted to come home," Apperson said.

Van Nuys Municipal Judge Leslie Ann Dunn set Cummings' bail at $100,000 and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Aug. 8. Cummings had been held without bail since she turned herself in last Tuesday after learning that she faced a murder charge.

Cummings' attorney, Joe Ingber, had asked that bail be set at "a reasonable amount" and denounced the charge as "a vendetta" by the Los Angeles police detective investigating the case.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Korban scoffed at Ingber's accusation, countering, "It seems just a teeny bit coincidental that within three months, two little boys in this woman's care have died." Korban asked that Cummings remain in Sybil Brand Institute without bail.

Cummings is also under investigation in connection with the March 15 death of a 14-month-old baby in her charge.

Matthew Cooley of Reseda lost consciousness while at a park with Cummings. The boy's doctor ruled the cause of death as a seizure resulting from an organic medical problem of undetermined origin.

But Matthew's mother, Lynn Cooley, testified Monday as a prosecution witness that the baby had had seizures only in Cummings' presence. Cooley said that Cummings began caring for Matthew in June, 1989, and that she was called to hospital emergency rooms on Sept. 14 and Jan. 29 when her son suffered what Cummings described as seizures.

In March, Cummings told paramedics that the boy "turned blue" while taking a nap in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area after she took him there to play. He was rushed by ambulance to Valley Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.

The coroner's office, which investigates all unnatural deaths in the county, did not perform an autopsy because the boy's doctor attributed the death to natural causes, prosecutors said.

Cummings' husband, Michael, a truck driver, testified that because of the seizures, his wife asked Matthew Cooley's mother "not to bring him anymore and she had asked very desperately that we continue baby-sitting." Cummings said he then asked the boy's mother to write a letter stating "that should there be an injury, we would not be held liable for it." He presented the letter to the judge.

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