Larson disappointed in Southworth ruling; will file motion soon against overturned murder conviction

jmadden@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2014 

Umi Southworth


Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said he was "disappointed" in a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that overturned the murder conviction and life sentence of Donald Southworth, and he plans to file a motion to reconsider.

On Thursday, Justice Mary Noble wrote for the court that Southworth, 52, should get a new trial in the 2010 death of his wife, Umi Southworth, after prosecutors failed to prove that semen at the crime scene was staged after it was taken from a neighbor's trash can by Donald Southworth.

Larson told the Herald-Leader Friday that he was "very disappointed in the Supreme Court's opinion written by Mary Noble." "I just disagree with her legal reasoning," he said. "However, she's the judge and it's her job to make that decision, not mine." Larson added that two justices agreed the judge in the 2012 murder case made the "right decision."

Justice Will T. Scott and Justice Bill Cunningham said they would have upheld the conviction because a witness, Southworth's girlfriend, testified that he showed her the used condom and told her the story of how it came into his possession.

Umi Southworth, 44, was found severely beaten beneath a box spring in a brushy area behind her home on Meadowthorpe Avenue on June 9, 2010. She was beaten with a large branch and a belt was found around her neck, according to investigators. She died the next day.

Donald Southworth's DNA was not found on the branch or the belt. Also, semen found in Umi Southworth's body did not belong to her husband, according to the document, which was filed by defense attorney Russell Baldani.

A Fayette County Circuit jury reached a verdict Jan. 20, 2012 after deliberating for about three hours and 20 minutes. Not long after that, jurors recommended that Southworth receive a life sentence.

Southworth has been serving his sentence at Northpoint Training Center. Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, said he will remain there until "we have the paperwork in hand" ordering his release.

Although the state Supreme Court rendered its decision Thursday, the department cannot take action until the decision is final. Lamb said a period of 20 days follows the decision being rendered. She said that's typical for any type of release, such as court ordered release or shock probation.

Larson is trying to prevent his release. He said his office is reviewing the opinion and will talk to the state attorney general's office for the reconsideration.

"If we succeed, great. And if we don't we'll try him again," he said. "We have to do everything we can to uphold this conviction, so we'll have to move pretty quickly."

Russell Baldani said the whole defense team is happy to see Donald Southworth receive a new trial. The firm represented Southworth during his 2012 trial; the appeal was handled by the Department of Public Advocacy.

Baldani said his team "believed all along that they didn't have sufficient evidence to convict him of murder." However, he said, he thought they were successful "in introducing a lot of evidence about his bad character and that's part of the reason the Supreme Court gave him a new trial."

During the eight-day trial, Donald Southworth, a truck driver for UPS, was described as a smart, manipulative control freak who had beaten and tortured his first wife and animals.

"He maintained from the start that he didn't do it," said Baldani. "We didn't believe that they could prove that he did it and we were surprised that a jury found otherwise."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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