Testimony describes day Umi Southworth found

witnesses tell of search for their missing co-worker

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 11, 2012 

Umi and Donald Southworth's marriage was not a happy one, and Umi had plans to move to Nashville, prosecutor Kathy Phillips told a Fayette Circuit Court jury on Tuesday.

Umi Southworth's co-workers at the Fazoli's restaurant chain headquarters in Lexington planned to take her to lunch on June 9, 2010, her last day at work before she was to move to Nashville. They became concerned when she did not show up for work and did not respond to phone calls and text messages, Phillips said. So four of the co-workers drove to the Southworth home, she said.

Testimony from the four co-workers took up much of the day in the courtroom on Tuesday, the second day of the trial of Donald Southworth, accused of murdering Umi Southworth.

Defense attorney Tucker Richardson told jurors that Donald Southworth has continuously maintained that he is innocent.

Richardson said Umi had become close with John DeGrazio, a Christian singer she had met while helping her musically talented daughter Almira further her music career, and Donald and Umi were talking about divorce, but both had agreed that Almira was important to them. Phillips said in her opening statement that DeGrazio and Umi were not having an affair.

Donald Southworth is a loner, but he was very involved with his children, Richardson said. He was a "roadie" for Almira, Richardson said in his opening statement to the jurors.

Umi Southworth's badly beaten body was found later in the day on June 9, 2010. She died the following day after she was taken off life support, Phillips said. The case has drawn widespread attention because police officers did not realize that she was still alive for more than three hours after they arrived at the scene.

Umi Southworth, who was 44, had two skull fractures, which were not survivable, Phillips said. She said the woman was found naked beneath box springs and a rug near her home, and that brain matter and blood, along with flies and maggots, were on and around her body. She was taken to a hospital after the coroner noticed her chest move, Phillips said testimony and evidence will show.

The prosecutor said Umi Southworth had not been sexually assaulted but said semen was found in her body. It did not belong to Donald Southworth or men in a criminal database, she said. She later told jurors that Yogi Hesti, a woman who had lived with the Southworths and had a daughter with Donald Southworth, had told investigators that Donald Southworth once inserted a used condom with someone else's semen in it into Hesti's body.

Evidence will show that Donald Southworth committed a "careful, but not a perfect murder," Phillips said.

Richardson said a police officer treated Donald Southworth dismissively when he went to the police station with Almira to file a missing person report on June 9, 2010. Richardson said Southworth continuously cooperated with police and had asked them not to focus on him alone as a suspect.

Richardson said Donald Southworth asked if he could see Umi three times after police told him she had been found.

The defense lawyer said Umi Southworth had been found near a homeless camp near the Southworths' home and had been raped. He said Donald Southworth had no wounds and police took no photos of him, and that Umi Southworth had no defensive wounds. He said police did not go to homeless shelters or a nearby shopping center during their investigation of the case.

"Umi Southworth died a horrible death. She didn't deserve to die like that," Richardson said. He added that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and somebody needs to pay for this. But he said evidence will not convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Southworth killed his wife.

The Fazoli's employees who went to the Southworth home on June 9, 2010 — Marcy York, Tracy Hoffman, Susan Whitney and Laura Hall — were met at the door by Almira, according to court testimony.

York said the Southworth home looked disheveled inside. She said she rummaged through Umi Southworth's car in the carport and then saw a flip-flop near the car. She said she found another flip-flop nearby in the backyard. She said Almira said the shoes were her mother's.

Later, there was testimony about keys belonging to Umi Southworth also being found in the yard, but it was unclear who found them.

After the co-workers arrived at the Southworth home, Almira called her father at work and he came home, York said.

Hall said Donald Southworth said his wife might have gone somewhere with a man she had been texting the night before.

Hall told defense attorney Russell Baldani that she didn't see anything that would cause great alarm when she looked around the house.

Hoffman said when she saw Donald Southworth come up to the residence, she asked him where Umi was and told him she knew he knew where she was.

"That's your problem — you know too much," she said Donald Southworth told her.

The women left. They drove around the block and flagged down a police officer, who followed them to the Southworth home on Meadowthorpe Avenue, according to testimony from the women.

The officer, Susan Brown, said Donald Southworth approached her in her police cruiser and said he was going downtown to file a missing person report. She said Southworth told her his wife was home at 3:15 a.m. when he left for work and that she had a boyfriend.

Officer Christopher Woodyard, who talked to Donald Southworth at police headquarters, said via a taped interview that Southworth did not mention having talked to police earlier in the day. He also said he didn't feel there was an urgent need for a missing person report based on what Donald Southworth told him.

Southworth had also made a 911 emergency call to police after his wife's co-workers arrived at his home. A recording of that call was played for the jury.

Southworth was heard telling a dispatcher that his wife was not home. Southworth said he and Umi had not been arguing, but were getting a divorce. He said Umi had taken off before and that co-workers had missed her at work. He indicated he would come to the police department to file a missing person report.

Umi Southworth's co-workers testified that she had a cellphone she kept at work and that she seemed tense when they saw her and her husband together.

The trial, expected to last eight days, continues Wednesday with Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell presiding.

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

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