A man charged with second-degree murder for supplying drugs that killed an 18-year-old will serve at least two years in prison.
Nathan Windham pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, selling and delivering a controlled substance, and selling and delivering a counterfeit substance.
He was sentenced to between 27 and 42 months on the manslaughter charge, and he received a suspended sentence of 9 to 18 months, with two years of probation.
Kevin Cummings’ mother, Christie Barker-Cummings, told WRAL her son struggled with addiction.
After an incident of simple assault at their home when he was 17, she agreed for him to spend 10 days in jail.
That’s where he met Nathan Windham, an incident Cummings’ family calls a perfect storm.
Windham and Cummings agreed to trade drugs; Cummings would supply marijuana, and Windham would supply heroin. However, the heroin Cummings received was laced with fentanyl, and he overdosed and died in November of 2018.
Since Cummings’ death, North Carolina has passed the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, meaning 16 and 17 year olds are no longer automatically tried as adults.
Cummings’ family said had that law been in place in 2018, he never would have met Windham in the first place.
Kevin Cummings’ family described him as intelligent, athletic, and persistent.
"We call him our shooting star, because he really burned fast and bright," Barker-Cummings said. "He was born six weeks early, but by 9 months, he was speaking in phrases. His first word was light."
Cummings scored a 1400 on the SAT, and he had three college scholarships on the table.
"He had a really rich life," Barker-Cummings said. "And I just wish he could’ve experienced the rest of it."
Cummings’ stepmother also spoke before Windham’s sentencing, calling her stepson and intelligent and handsome young man who was battling dark demons.
"Kevin should have lived a long life with the family he was destined to have," she told the court.
His stepmother shared a heartbreaking story of trying to revive Kevin when his father found him dead one morning.
"No amount of time served will ever bring Kevin back," she said.
After Cummings’ family spoke, Windham’s defense attorney turned and spoke directly to them.
He told the Judge in his 49 years of practicing law, he’d never spoken to a family in a courtroom.
"Addiction is a terrible thing," he told them, adding that they are in his prayers, and sharing his family’s story. "Addiction lives in a lot of lives.
Windham and his wife are involved in the recovery community and their church. He has been clean for 18 months.
He read a letter to the family, expressing his sorrow for Kevin’s death.
"We both had something in common: addiction and mental health issues. I realize a lot of people have been hurt and lives have been forever changed by my actions," he told them, tearing up while speaking.
With very few dry eyes in the courtroom, Barker-Cummings embraced Windham and his wife at the end of the hearing.
"To hear that they had been going out into the community to these events and speaking with remorse, you know, him with remorse about what had happened and how it changed his life, and how he has to live with it, I could tell he really has remorse," she told WRAL. "I was able to let go of a lot of bitterness that I’ve held. I didn’t know what was happening in his life. I was imagining somebody who was thinking about the loss to himself and his livelihood and his time, personal freedom, and I really wasn’t considering how much he might be hurting from what happened. It just felt healing to see him as a person who has spent a lot of time thinking about this."
Barker-Cummings also acknowledged that while her son was battling his demon of addiction, Windham was battling his own as well.
"Because Kevin had addiction, and I really believe it is mental illness and not a choice, how can I say my son couldn’t make independent choices, and then when Nathan also suffered from addiction, obviously the same applied to him. Like he said, he wasn’t in his right mind either," Barker-Cummings.
She is trying to focus on the future, not the past, hoping her son’s story can save someone else fighting addiction.
"In some ways I feel like maybe Kevin’s purpose was to come and kind of blow the lid off things for so many people in his orbit, because now we’re really actively involved," Barker-Cummings said. "I think a lot more lives will be saved as a result of that one death. I wish I could have him back, but he’s doing good work."
The Cummings family has become active in the addiction awareness community; Barker-Cummings recommends to other parents who are concerned to talk with their children.
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