Bellingham man convicted second time for wife's 1990 murder

BELLINGHAM - Despite the fact that it's been more than two decades since the disappearance of Alice Hummel - and her body still hasn't been found - her husband was convicted of her murder for a second time Tuesday, May 20.

Bruce Hummel was first convicted by a jury in 2009 for his wife's murder nearly 20 years before.

That conviction was reversed last year, and his case was sent back to Whatcom County for retrial by the Court of Appeals, which found that his right to a public trial had been violated during jury selection. Potential jurors who may have been prejudiced against Hummel because of their experience with molestation were allowed to speak in the judge's chambers, rather than in the courtroom. There are standards - under what's called the Bone-Club analysis - for closing a courtroom in Washington state during jury selection, but the Court of Appeals found that Hummel's case did not meet those standards.

So five years after the first trial, prosecutors found themselves back in the courtroom.

The retrial was concerning for prosecutors, who would have to bring back witnesses and evidence from the first trial, and for the Hummel children, who would have to relive the tragedy all over again, Prosecutor Dave McEachran said.

"They were anguishing that we have to do it again, but they were able to step forward," McEachran said. "They did an extremely good job."

Hummel, now 72, told his three kids that Mom abandoned the family in October 1990, that she flew to California for a job interview out of the blue and never returned.

For many years Bruce Hummel insisted Alice moved away, forging letters and sending gifts from her to convince the kids that she was still alive. But in 2001, two of Hummel's daughters revealed to each other they'd been sexually abused by their father for many years, and it dawned on them that he may have had a hand in their mother's disappearance. About two weeks before Alice went missing, the youngest daughter had confided to her mother that Bruce Hummel had been molesting her since about the age of 3. Her mother said she would take care of it and it would not happen again. Then she disappeared, and the abuse continued.

After the daughters talked about the abuse when they were older, they decided to call the police.

At first Hummel gave police the same story about Alice taking a new job in California. But after police questioned him about the fact that he'd cashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in Alice's disability checks over the years, he apologized to police for putting up a "smokescreen."

He then claimed Alice had killed herself in the family home on Vista Drive in Bellingham and left a note saying not to tell the kids. So he loaded her body onto a raft and took her onto Bellingham Bay but, in his story, a storm hit. The raft overturned and the body sank into the bay.

Investigators, however, checked weather records from that day. There was no storm, and winds didn't top 6 mph.

Hummel's public defender had stressed the lack of proof, crime scene, weapon and confirmed motive in her opening statements.

But after about week of trial and more than four hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict. For a second time, Hummel was found guilty of first-degree murder.

"We were extremely happy and extremely relieved," McEachran said. "That's a case the officers and I have worked on since 2001. It was a really good feeling to have him convicted again and to be held accountable for the killing of his wife"

Hummel's sentencing hadn't been scheduled Thursday, but McEachran expected it to take place in the next week. His original sentence was 45 years in prison.