the slaying of umi southworth

Lexington man indicted for murder in 2010 beating death of his wife

donald Southworth jr. allegedly beat wife with piece of wood in 2010

jkegley@herald-leader.comJune 3, 2011 

Donald Southworth Jr. struck his wife in the head with a piece of wood, causing her death a year ago in Lexington, according to a newly released indictment charging him with murder.

Southworth was arrested early Thursday. His wife, Umi Southworth, died June 10, a day after being found behind the Meadowthorpe Avenue fourplex that she shared with her husband and daughter.

The indictment was released Thursday after several hours' delay. A court order sealing the case file blocked police from releasing information about Southworth's arrest, causing the cancellation of a news conference that had been called late Wednesday, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Don Southworth, 48, was arrested at Sportsman Motel, 1107 Winchester Road. The manager, Frank Cutshaw, said Southworth had been staying there since March.

"He was very quiet," Cutshaw said. "We never had any problems with him. This shocked us."

Cutshaw and his wife, Donna, said Southworth kept to himself and was "very clean."

Southworth told them he worked for UPS, where he said was employed as a truck driver last year. Cutshaw said police never contacted them about Southworth.

"He said he mostly kind of lived from his car," Donna Cutshaw said. "It really shocked us because we didn't know until this morning when we got on the news."

One of Southworth's attorneys, Michael Rowland, said he could not say much about the case because he was just learning details of the arrest.

Rowland, who has worked with Southworth on a child custody case since 2005, said Southworth has "denied any involvement since day one."

"He's maintained his innocence," Rowland said. "He wants to go to court on this and looks forward to his day in court."

Southworth declined to comment from the Fayette County Detention Center, where he was being held on a $500,000 bond.

The arrest and the indictment's release came just hours after Don Southworth filed court papers to become administrator of his wife's estate. He also indicated in court documents that he intended to file a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and daughter Almira Fawn Southworth.

In filing the petition earlier Wednesday, Southworth called himself the "surviving spouse." At the time of her death, Umi Southworth did not have a will.

"The decedent's estate consists primarily of an unliquidated claim for wrongful-death damages," the documents said. "The petitioner desires to retain counsel to prosecute the wrongful-death suit on behalf of himself and the minor child Almira Fawn Southworth."

Don Southworth's probate attorney, Justin Morgan, could not be reached for comment, and the court document does not say whom Southworth planned to sue for damages. But the Lexington police department has been heavily scrutinized for not getting medical help for Umi Southworth for more than three hours after she was found.

Umi Southworth died "after being severely beaten by an as of yet unidentified assailant," Don Southworth's court filings stated.

On June 9, officers went to the Meadowthorpe Avenue fourplex to conduct a welfare check because Umi Southworth, an accountant, didn't show up for work at Fazoli's corporate headquarters on Palumbo Drive.

Officers found Umi Southworth, 44, and thought she was dead. According to police reports, it appeared she had been attacked with a "large piece of wood."

But Southworth, suffering head and facial injuries, was alive and survived until the next day.

After a five-month investigation, police described the response as a "failure of policy and personnel."

Police Chief Ronnie Bastin then announced a policy revision to prevent similar mistakes. It required all officers at apparent homicides to contact the Division of Fire Emergency Services if medical personnel are not at the scene.

Officers were instructed to "minimize the contamination and alteration of the crime scene" by pointing out potential physical evidence to firefighters.

Fire department personnel were to make the determination of death and would be responsible for contacting the coroner, according to the policy.

The policy also required officers to check for signs of life, including breathing or a pulse. Bastin previously said he did not think officers checked for a pulse because of the severity of Southworth's injuries.

In addition to filing as an administrator of his wife's estate and to indicating his interest in a wrongful-death lawsuit, Don Southworth had been ordered in May by Circuit Judge Timothy Philpot to pay the medical bills for his younger daughter, Aleah, because she wasn't covered under her stepfather's insurance.

Don Southworth considered Aleah's mother, Yogi Moerti Hesti, his second wife, court documents show. Hesti gained custody of Almira the day after Umi Southworth's death.

Court records indicate that as of January, Hesti still had custody of Almira. That's when Philpot signed an order allowing Don Southworth to have phone contact with Almira, 13, an aspiring folk musician who had a recording contract in Nashville.

Roberts said Thursday that police could not comment on any aspect of the investigation. Official information could come only from court documents, she said. No documents related to the criminal case, besides the indictment, were available Thursday.

Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson could not be reached for comment.

Carl Howard, Fazoli's CEO, said Umi Southworth had been a "valued employee" at the company.

"The whole story is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking," Howard said. "We'll certainly be glad to have some closure, and we hope that the person responsible for this receives a just penalty."

Reporter Becca Clemons contributed to this article.

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