Alaska ski legend Dean Cummings acquitted in New Mexico murder trial

A man with a green T shirt faces the camera for a mugshot in front of lines showing his height.
Dean Cummings mugshot (Sandoval County, New Mexico)

A New Mexico jury found Alaska heli-skiing pioneer Dean Cummings not guilty of murder this week in a 2020 shooting in which Cummings claimed self-defense.

Cummings, the former World Extreme Skiing Champion behind the now-defunct Valdez-based H2O Guides, walked out of jail a short time after the verdict Tuesday, a free man for the first time in more than two years, his attorney Nicole Moss said.

A grand jury indicted Cummings on a charge of second-degree murder in March 2020 for killing 47-year-old Guillermo Arriola at a remote New Mexico property that Arriola owned. Cummings had been staying there and said Arriola attacked him during a discussion about Cummings buying the property. Cummings said he shot Arriola with a rifle while the two men fought.

Related: An Alaska ski legend is accused of murder. This writer went inside ‘The final descent of Dean Cummings’

Stories about Cummings’ arrest were marked with questions from friends about his mental health, including what some described as paranoid delusions and a drift away from skiing.

But Moss said Cummings was steadfast from the beginning that he had shot Arriola to protect himself.

“And so when he testified, he testified in pretty good detail as to exactly how everything unfolded,” Moss said. “But in addition to Dean’s testimony, there was a lot of physical evidence that supported what he was saying.”

That included evidence of a struggle between Cummings and Arriola, Moss said.

As for questions about Cummings’ mental state, Moss said he had seemed truthful and stable during the 16 months she’s been his attorney.

“And if he had mental health problems, at the same time, you can have mental health problems and still be attacked and still have to defend yourself,” Moss said.

Cummings is thankful to have his freedom and is now trying to put his life back together after spending more than two years behind bars, Moss said.

New Mexico Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Martinez said prosecutors did a good job of presenting their evidence against Cummings but that her office respected the jury’s verdict.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.