Jury seated in Southworth murder trial; opening arguments start Tuesday

Daughter, 14, listed as witness

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 10, 2012 

A jury of six women and eight men — two of whom will become alternates — was selected Monday in the Lexington murder trial of Donald Southworth, who is accused of killing his wife, Umi Southworth, in June 2010.

Jury selection started at 8:30 a.m. and ended about 7:30 p.m., with only a few short breaks.

Attorneys in the case asked specific questions of more than 50 potential jurors after dozens of others were excused for various reasons, including that they had read or seen stories about the case in the news.

Defense attorney Tucker Richardson told the potential jurors that Donald Southworth lived with Umi Southworth and another woman at the same time for a while and had a daughter with each woman. He asked them how they felt about that. Several said they thought such an arrangement was wrong.

Richardson also said Donald and Umi Southworth's daughter, Almira, now 14, often slept in the same bed with her parents. Some of the potential jurors indicated they had a problem with the sleeping arrangements.

Richardson described his client as an overzealous parent when it came to his daughters. Almira is a well-known area folk singer.

Richardson said there are things about Donald Southworth that people might not like, but he asked whether anyone would disagree that everybody has faults.

The attorney said one of the biggest decisions the defense has to make is whether Southworth will take the stand on his own behalf.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said much of the case against Southworth will be based on circumstantial evidence.

Umi Southworth, 44, was found badly beaten behind the fourplex she shared with her husband and daughter on Meadowthorpe Avenue on June 9, 2010. She died the next day at a local hospital. The case drew international attention because police did not realize for more than three hours after arriving at the scene that Umi Southworth was alive.

On Monday, Larson talked about Umi Southworth being alive after she was found, but he said she was "programmed to die" by the injuries to her brain.

Donald Southworth, 49, was arrested nearly a year after her death and just hours after he filed court papers to become the administrator of her estate. He indicated at the time that he intended to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city.

During Monday's jury selection, attorneys on both sides read lists of people who might be called as witnesses at the trial.

Almira Southworth and Yogi Hesti Johnson, the woman who lived with the Southworths and has a daughter with Donald Southworth, were on the prosecution team's list.

Not on either list were Nirmayati Ching Lee Southworth, who is said to have married Donald Southworth in 1983 and is said to have been living in hiding from him since 1992, and Geetha Harward, who once was engaged to be married to Donald Southworth.

In the months leading up to the trial, prosecutors filed documents asking whether evidence allegedly showing that Southworth has a history of domestic violence and sexual perversions could be used in the trial. Prosecutors mention alleged domestic violence involving Donald Southworth and Nirmayati Southworth, Geetha Harward and Yogi Hesti Johnson in those documents.

Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell, who is presiding over the case, has made some rulings about the admissibility of evidence from Donald Southworth's previous relationships, but much of that information has been sealed, defense attorney Mike Rowland has said.

Prosecutors have maintained that Southworth had a pattern of control over the women in his life and that his loss of control over Umi Southworth led him to kill her.

Defense attorneys have said a lack of physical evidence and admissions by Donald Southworth are "huge obstacles" for prosecutors in proving their case.

According to one document filed in court by the defense, there was no DNA belonging to Donald Southworth on the large tree branch used to beat Umi Southworth or the belt found around her neck. And, according to the document, semen found in Umi Southworth's body was not her husband's.

The trial is expected to be held through Thursday this week, and Tuesday through Friday next week. Court will not be in session Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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