Hayti men sentenced for murder

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two Hayti men have been charged and sentenced in the murder of David “Tray” Phelps. In the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2015, David Phelps, 26, of Hayti was found lying dead next to his car in his driveway at 915 Swan Lake Drive. An autopsy report listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma. The following day, Bert Allen Ellison, then 41, of Bradford, Tenn., was arrested on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. 

By Oct. 7, 2015, a second man, Chester Daniel Cummings, then 45, of Hayti was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. During that time it was released that Phelps had recently been granted joint custody of the 5-year-old son he shared with Heather Cummings, who was also Ellison’s girlfriend. The probable cause statement said Cummings was not happy about this change in the custody agreement and went on to detail how Ellison had pictures of Phelps’ home on his phone, despite the fact that Ellison said he had never gone to Phelps’ house. 

Court documents showed that Heather Cummings’ father, Chester Cummings, told investigators he drove Ellison to Phelps’ house early on Thursday morning. Chester said he thought Ellison was just going to scare Phelps. 

Another arrest was made on Oct. 7 as Michael Jay Hemingway, then 36, of Portageville was charged with a felony count of tampering with physical evidence. It was alleged that he helped the suspects dispose of evidence. 

On Oct. 9, 2015, Ronda Jean Cummings, then 47, the wife of Chester Cummings, was arrested in connection with the case and faced two felony charges of hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence. It was alleged that she picked up her husband directly after the murder and drove him to meet Hemingway. 

However, the arrests were not over. By November, Heather Cummings, then 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Phelps’ murder. It was later alleged that she drove Ellison and her father to the Phelps’ residence and dropped them off. 

On Monday, June 5, Chester Cummings, appeared in the Dunklin County Courthouse before Judge Mark Preyer. September 24, 2015, Cummings entered a guilty plea to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to life in prison. 

On Tuesday, June 6, Bert Ellison pleaded guilty to conspiracy of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to five years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.