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William Cumber gets 13.5 years in prison (w/audio)

BRADENTON — The man police call a “person of interest” in the disappearance of a missing motel owner was sentenced to 13 1/2 years in prison Thursday for violating probation on an arson conviction.

Before sentencing, William Cumber, 39, again denied any involvement with his girlfriend Sabine Musil-Buehler’s disappearance last November.

“We get in an argument, she takes off. After that she’s missing. ... I can’t help that she left the house,” Cumber said. “I lost my business, I lost the apartment, then the Haley’s Motel catches on fire. ... I was somewhere else when this fire started.”

Cumber had pleaded guilty last month to violating his probation after he got caught by Marion County authorities outside Ocala driving with a suspended license in December.

Cumber is the last person to have reported seeing Musil-Buehler alive. Musil-Buehler, co-owner with her estranged husband of Haley’s Motel on Holmes Beach, has not been seen since Nov. 4, and authorities suspect foul play.

Cumber last fall was released from prison after serving 42 months behind bars for setting fire to a chair on a woman’s porch.

During Thursday’s hearing, Assistant State Attorney Tony Casoria had asked Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith to sentence Cumber to 15 years for the probation violation. Cumber’s attorney, Thomas Ostrander, asked the judge to place his client back on probation without prison time. He said his client was under pressure when he left the county and drove without a license.

On Nov. 6, Musil-Buehler’s estranged husband, Thomas Buehler, reported her missing after Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled over a man driving her stolen car. The driver, Robert Corona, admitted to stealing her car but claimed no knowledge of her disappearance, sheriff’s officials say. Detectives found Musil-Buehler’s blood in her car.

Detectives focused on Cumber, naming him a person of interest, and collected evidence from the Holmes Beach apartment he shared with Musil-Buehler. More suspicion came Cumber’s way when a duplex at Haley’s went up in flames two weeks after Musil-Buehler went missing. In court Thursday, Cumber said police have called his alibi weak and blasted reporters for marring his reputation by spreading it “like creamy peanut butter over freshly toasted bread.” Ostrander reminded the judge his client has not been arrested in connection with Musil-Buehler’s disappearance.

“This court considers a violation of probation a very serious matter,” Judge Smith told Cumber before handing down his punishment.

Ostrander shook his head slightly when the judge handed down the sentence, then quickly left the courtroom. He has said he believed prosecutors sought stiff prison time because of the Musil-Buehler case, not on the facts of Cumber’s probation violation.

Casoria said Cumber will receive credit for the time he’s spent at the Manatee County jail. He’s been incarcerated there since his arrest Dec. 22.

He’ll also get credit for the 42 months of time served in prison on the arson conviction, Casorio said.