Prosecutors seek to introduce Southworth's past crimes at his murder trial

Prior acts must have a bearing on the case

jkegley@herald-leader.comSeptember 24, 2011 

Prosecutors in the case against Don Southworth hope to introduce evidence of past crimes or wrongful acts when Southworth goes on trial for the murder of his wife.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dan Laren told Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell during a hearing Friday that prosecutors plan to introduce a motion explaining what bearing previous wrongful acts have on the case.

Laren did not discuss specifics but said prosecutors want to be able to present information about Southworth's previous relationships.

Southworth, who is accused in the fatal beating of Umi Southworth last year, has had three emergency protective orders taken out on him by two other women. In 2005, he was charged with fourth-degree assault and first-degree sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty to assault and an amended charge of sexual misconduct.

Typically, attorneys are prohibited from discussing past acts at trial unless a jury has found a defendant guilty. Past acts are generally disallowed if courts rule that they might cause a jury to judge a defendant based on his or her character rather than evidence.

Under federal evidence guidelines, past acts may be introduced if they have some bearing on the case, such as to prove motive or to prove that a defendant planned a crime.

Prosecutors have previously filed a motion asking Bunnell to review records of family therapy sessions between Louisville therapist Fred Schloemer and Umi Southworth. The records also contain interviews with Yogi Johnson, who lived with Don and Umi Southworth as a second wife, and Don Southworth's two minor children (one with each woman).

Laren asked the judge to wait until the commonwealth submits the filing, a 404(b) motion, to review Southworth's family therapy records "because I think that would give you a better clue about what you would be looking for as you go through those."

Bunnell gave Laren until Oct. 21 to file the motion.

Laren also requested access to a sealed 2005 family court file in Fayette Circuit Court. The file contains hundreds of pages documenting a lengthy child-custody hearing between Southworth and Yogi Johnson.

Southworth's attorney, Michael Rowland, objected to that file being reviewed.

"Generally speaking, everything that gets litigated in the trial needs to be relevant to the trial at hand," he said.

He said he didn't think that prosecutors had proved that details of Southworth's past relationships were relevant in the case.

The judge ruled in favor of the commonwealth, saying prosecutors could review the file but they could not share that information with anyone else.

Southworth is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 9.

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