Southworth murder trial: UPS dispatcher says the accused begged to come to work

UPS dispatcher describes accused's actions before wife found beaten

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 13, 2012 

Donald Southworth begged to come into work on June 9, 2010, UPS dispatcher Josh Elkins told a Fayette Circuit Court jury on Thursday.

"In seven years of working at UPS I've never had a driver beg to come into work," Elkins said.

He was the first of several witnesses in a long day of testimony in the trial of Southworth, 49, who is accused of murder in the death of his wife, Umi, 44.

The case gained notoriety because investigators did not realize Umi Southworth was alive for more than three hours after they arrived at the crime scene. The trial began Monday; it resumes Tuesday and is expected to last through next Friday.

Umi Southworth was found badly beaten later the same day that Elkins said Donald Southworth begged to come into work. She died the next day.

Southworth, who drove a semi for UPS, was supposed to have been at work at 3:15 a.m., the dispatcher said. When he didn't show up on time, Elkins assigned another driver to haul Southworth's loads, he said. The dispatcher said he tried to call Donald Southworth repeatedly, starting about 3:20 a.m.

Elkins said he never remembered Southworth being late.

"He was very punctual," he said, adding that Southworth sometimes came in early.

When Southworth finally called about 3:30 a.m., Elkins told him he had the job covered, Elkins said. Southworth said he "really, really needed to work," so the dispatcher found work for Southworth to do, he said.

The next witness, Jennifer Lawrence, who works for the FBI's behavioral analysis unit and was asked by Lexington police to assist with the Southworth case, said she examined seven months of UPS time sheets. They dated from March to September 2010.

Lawrence said the records showed that Southworth typically clocked in at work between 3:07 and 3:14 a.m. Under questioning by defense attorney Russell Baldani, Lawrence said Southworth clocked in at 3:35 a.m. June 9, 2010.

Most of the rest of the day in court Thursday was taken up by testimony from Lexington police officers and civilian police department employees who gathered evidence and conducted tests on evidence in the case.

Detective David Day of the police department's forensic services unit said there was no sign of blood in or on a Honda minivan or a Honda sedan belonging to the Southworths. There were no identifiable or usable fingerprints on the minivan; a latent print found above a headlamp on the car did not belong to Donald or Umi Southworth and did not match fingerprints of criminals on file, he said. He said a usable fingerprint is probably found in less than 25 percent of criminal cases.

Neither vehicle appeared to have been washed recently, and neither showed signs of attempts to erase evidence, he said.

Among items found in the car was an AT&T cellphone, Day said. Items found in the van included a cat litter box, he said.

Day, who attended Umi Southworth's autopsy for the police department, said he did not take photos of areas of her body that might have shown she was sexually assaulted.

Police officer Stewart Fowler said items he found near a so-called "hobo camp" where Umi Southworth was found included a tan sweater that appeared to have dried blood on it.

Former police officer Tim Russell, now a civilian forensics technician for the Lexington police, said he photographed the crime scene and the Southworths' home. He said he saw divorce papers in a trash can in the living room.

Baldani, while questioning some investigators who took the witness stand Thursday, repeatedly mentioned that sophisticated testing for blood was not done on some items collected as evidence, and in some cases there was no blood testing done. He also pointed out that certain items were not collected as evidence, such as the box spring Umi Southworth was found lying beneath, and damp clothing found in a washing machine in the Southworths' home.

Russell said the washing machine was tested for blood, but none was found. He said that was why the clothing inside the machine — including UPS uniform pants, shirt and hat, and shoes and women's panties — was not collected. According to testimony, police found that the washer was set on "hot." Russell indicated that hot water can destroy DNA.

Sgt. Allen Dobson, who works in the police forensic services unit and who made the decisions about what would be collected as evidence, said one reason for not collecting the box spring was its size, but he said swatches were taken from it. Dobson also said that sophisticated tests for blood were not done on the washer and that the pieces of clothing inside were not photographed individually.

At one point, Baldani asked Dobson whether it was his job to document things. Dobson said "yes."

Baldani asked detective Chris Buzard what kind of measurements were taken of what the officer and other officers thought were tire tracks in the grass between the Southworths' driveway and the area where Umi Southworth was found. Buzard said he wasn't sure any measurements were taken and didn't recall whether the "tracks" were compared to the tires on the Southworths' minivan.

Buzard said the thought never registered that police needed to measure the tire tracks.

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

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