Bad Apples

Is a teacher's effort to free two convicted killers a rush to bad judgment?

Inside a cardboard evidence box at the Gregg County Courthouse are the mangled bullets that killed Jerry, Brenda and Devin Morgan. There are hair samples, a bloodstained piece of the Morgans' mobile home floor and an 8-by-10-inch color picture of Cynthia "May" Cummings, now Alvin Kelly's ex-wife.

Cummings, whose most recently listed telephone was disconnected and who could not be located by the Dallas Observer, was the product of a tumultuous upbringing. She dropped out of high school when she was 16, shortly after her mother died, and started smoking marijuana and drinking. The poorly educated daughter of a truck driver, she married young, became pregnant and continued partying until she became addicted to hard-core drugs, she later testified.

Alvin Kelly's rap sheet
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Alvin Kelly's rap sheet
David Hollenbach

At about the time the photograph was taken, Cummings was just getting to know the longhaired, heavily bearded Al Kelly. Kelly considered himself dangerous, and according to his own recollection, was a "John Dillinger" of East Texas.

When Cummings met Kelly, he made a modest living as a diesel mechanic. Cummings characterized Kelly as "charming" and hardworking. Their "partying" usually consisted of sitting around at Cummings' home with Kelly drinking beer and Cummings drinking vodka, Cummings testified.

Things changed after Kelly moved in with her. He began sharing "black mollies" (speed pills) with Cummings and introduced her to methamphetamine. Cummings became a regular user, shooting up meth sometimes a couple of times a day and staying up all night with Kelly, helping him in his shop.

It wasn't long before Kelly gave up the repair business and started dealing drugs full time, she testified. Kelly carried a gun in a holster and "ran the roads." Cummings' job was to watch his back, according to court documents. They began moving often, living in trailers or cheap apartments.

In the winter of 1985, more than a year after the murders, Cummings and Kelly were living in the back of a pickup truck camper outside Kelly's mother's house. Kelly was arrested on a warrant for auto theft and Cummings for camping in the city.

Because the Morgan killings remained unsolved, everybody detained in Longview, including Cummings and Kelly, was asked about the Morgans. When Longview Patrol Sergeant Roy Bean asked Cummings about the Morgan murders, she told him she had information but didn't want to talk without a guarantee of immunity from prosecution.

"I had numerous conversations with her, and it was clear to me that she was present at the murder scene because she knew details about the murders that were never made public," Bean says in an affidavit. "She made it clear to me that she would talk about the Morgan murders as long as she could be promised immunity."

Bean passed the information on to the district attorney's office, but they could do little more without more evidence or Cummings' cooperation.

Police suspected Kelly in the Morgan killings, and they also believed he killed a roommate less than three weeks after the Morgans were murdered. The roommate's body was found with .22-caliber bullet wounds, his truck was torched, and at about that same time, Kelly showed up at a hospital with severe burns.

In 1990, seven years after the murders, Cummings finally became persuaded to give police information. It helped that Kelly had just started serving a 25-year prison sentence for aggravated sexual assault and that they were divorced. After Cummings came forward, Kelly quickly made a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to killing the roommate and was given 30 more years in prison.

Now Cummings was ready to testify in the Morgan case. She had moved to Michigan and supposedly stopped doing drugs by this time. As part of her testimony, she confessed that she was at the scene of the Morgan murders with Kelly and that she helped cover it up.

To some of those familiar with both of the trials for the Morgan killings, it seemed incredible that Cummings would agree to be flown in from out of state, take the witness stand and talk without being threatened into it by prosecutors or promised legal protection. But Cummings swore that no one made her any deal that would protect her from prosecution. She didn't even have a lawyer.

Prosecutors said the only reason Cummings didn't talk before is because she was terrified of Kelly. With Kelly locked up for three decades, she was convinced she was protected.

When Cummings appeared on the witness stand, she was no longer the rough-looking drug abuser known to Alvin Kelly or Ronnie Wilson, a friend who did drugs with them. Wilson says angrily that they "cleaned her up" to make her look like a schoolteacher.

No one had publicly told what happened when the Morgans were killed, and Cummings would take the jury into the trailer along with Kelly and Wilson on the night of the murders.

On the morning of April 30, 1984, Cummings said, she woke up at a trailer in Rusk. Wilson, a relatively new friend, showed up there just after noon. All three of them injected meth, as usual.

After staying at the trailer until about three or four in the afternoon, Kelly told Cummings, "Get your shoes on. You're going with us."

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