Jury watches video of police questioning Southworth about wife's disappearance

Detective testifies it indicated he had been in area where wife found

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2012 

In recorded conversations with Lexington police detectives, Donald Southworth described in detail items he had found behind his home in a "hobo camp," the same area where his wife, Umi, was found badly beaten on June 9, 2010.

Donald Southworth's descriptions told police that Southworth was in the area the afternoon after Umi was mortally wounded, detective Bill Brislin told jurors on Thursday, day seven of Donald Southworth's trial for murder.

Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell has said she expects the trial to end Friday.

Jurors watched and listened to the recorded conversations. Brislin, on the witness stand, explained to jurors what those conversations meant to police. The recordings included parts of a video-recorded interview detectives had with Southworth on June 9-10, 2010, and a telephone conversation between Brislin and Southworth later.

In the recordings, Southworth, 49, who said he'd been to the brushy hobo camp a couple of times, talked about going there on a day when it was pouring rain. He said he found a mattress, which he later referred to as a box spring.

"I picked up a carpet sitting on top of a mattress," he said in the phone conversation with Brislin. Southworth said he leaned over the mattress, lifted it up and saw vines there.

"I remember sitting on the mattress," he said. He also said he saw clothing in bags in the area.

Southworth said he had found the rug a couple of months before — in April — behind his home and had put it in the trash. He said his daughter Almira had seen the rug in the back yard also.

Brislin said Donald Southworth was trying to identify things he had touched.

Police found Umi Southworth, 44, beneath the box spring on the evening of June 9, 2010. The rug was on top of the box spring, according to witnesses in the trial. Plastic garbage bags, grocery bags and clothing were found in the area, according to witnesses. Umi Southworth was pronounced dead after she was taken off life support the next day.

Prosecutors wound up their case against Donald Southworth late Thursday, a day taken up mainly with the recordings and testimony by Brislin. Jurors also heard from Dr. John Hunsaker, who performed an autopsy on Umi Southworth, and Anita Capillo, a forensic nurse who performs rape examinations for the police department.

The defense called one witness at the end of the day, James Mattingly, an employee of UPS, where Donald Southworth worked. He gave brief testimony about Southworth's work schedule and clock-in times.

During the interview with police in June 2010, Southworth, after detectives told him Umi had been found injured, talked continuously about his wife having an affair with a man. Southworth also said Umi was a lesbian. He talked about Almira's musical career. He also talked about Yogi Hesti Johnson, with whom he has a daughter named Aleah.

Southworth inquired about his wife's condition, but he talked more about other things. The detectives tried repeatedly to steer the conversation to Umi's attack and the events surrounding it.

Southworth told Brislin and detective Chris Schoonover repeatedly that he didn't hurt Umi. He said Umi was at home when he left for work after 3 a.m. June 9. He said he and Umi had gone looking for their cat Scruffy, who had slipped out of the house, before he left for work.

At times the interview was heated, with Southworth almost yelling at the detectives, who kept asking him about the attack.

During a break in the police interview, Southworth was allowed to visit with his daughters. Southworth and daughter Almira cried. Aleah was chatty.

"Pray baby," Southworth said to Almira.

After the recordings were played, Brislin testified about showing Almira a photo of a belt that was found around Umi's neck. Al mira said it was similar to belts in the Southworth home.

Brislin also testified about calling a man in Indonesia who had lived in Lexington and talking to him about condoms. On a recording of the conversation, the man is heard telling Brislin he had used condoms in Lexington. Hesti had testified earlier that Donald Southworth had inserted a used condom belonging to the man into her. Umi Southworth, according to witnesses, had semen in her body that did not belong to her husband.

Defense attorney Russell Baldani questioned Brislin about why police did not take certain items, including a washing machine, clothing, the box spring and plywood, as evidence in their investigation. Brislin said the Kentucky State Police crime laboratory usually limits the number of items from a case that it will test for things such as blood and DNA. Brislin cited a lack of storage space for large items, and he blamed rainy, evidence-destroying weather.

Brislin also told Baldani that the area where Umi Southworth was found was not a hobo camp. He said there was no evidence in the area of cigarette butts, alcohol containers or of cooking, which usually are signs of a homeless camp.

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

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