Crime

Court documents outline new evidence, allege past abuse in Umi Southworth murder case

New details have emerged in the killing of Lexington resident Umi Southworth, who was beaten to death last year.

Southworth, 44, was beaten with a large branch, and a belt was found around her neck, according to a document filed this week in Fayette Circuit Court. Previously, reports have said only that she was beaten with a piece of wood. But the branch and the belt contained no DNA belonging to her husband, Donald Southworth, who has been accused of her murder, according to the document filed by defense attorneys in the case.

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.

Umi Southworth was found beaten outside her Meadowthorpe Avenue home on June 9, 2010, and died the next day. The case made headlines because Lexington police did not realize for more than three hours after they got to the scene that she was alive.

The defense document was filed in response to prosecutors' filings asking whether evidence allegedly showing that Donald Southworth has a history of domestic violence and sexual perversions is admissible at trial. Graphic accounts of alleged such acts are detailed in a document filed last week by prosecutors.

In the notice, prosecutors say that Donald Southworth had a pattern of control over the women in his life, and that the loss of control of Umi Southworth was the motive for her murder.

Since Umi Southworth is not able to testify in court against her husband, "within the principles of fairness, we must learn from those who can," the document says.

The prosecutors' document is based primarily on a meeting between Donald Southworth's first wife, Nirmayati Ching Lee Southworth, and Lexington Police Det. William Brislin and Assistant Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Kathy Phillips.

The defense document says that prosecutors are basing their arguments on events that allegedly occurred long ago and involved third parties. The defense questions whether they are relevant to the murder case now pending against Donald Southworth.

"After the commonwealth introduces evidence that defendant raped a dog, digitally penetrated a 'baby in diapers,' and poisoned his mother, a murder conviction will be a foregone conclusion. While such allegations might make for sensational tabloid fodder, they have no place in a court of law," according to the document filed by Baldani and defense attorneys Tucker Richardson and Michael Rowland.

According to the document filed by prosecutors, Nirmayati Southworth, who married Donald Southworth in 1983, staged an abduction in June 1992 to get away from her husband. She changed her identity after she escaped, and has kept her identity and location secret in order to stay hidden from Donald Southworth, the document says. Investigators recently located Nirmayati Southworth, according to the document.

Nirmayati Southworth told the officials that Donald Southworth controlled her through mental and physical abuse, according to the document.

"He told her what to eat. He told her what to wear. He knew everywhere she went. The defendant made her write a diary. He told her what to write in it, of which many things were not true. He told her he would use it against her if she ever did anything he didn't approve of," the document says.

Nirmayati Southworth also told the authorities that her husband controlled her money. He made her work and kept the money she earned, then later didn't allow her to work, so that she had no money, according to the court filing. She said Donald Southworth also limited her communication with other people and her access to a car.

She said that one time he left her alone for three days in a one-room shack with no plumbing in Garrard County where they lived and insisted she couldn't eat until he returned and told her she could. She said she became extremely ill, and Donald Southworth used her incapacitation to exert more control over her.

Nirmayati Southworth went on to tell the officials that Donald Southworth recorded her actions, including sexual intercourse between the two of them. She said Donald Southworth would assault her in ways that didn't leave visible marks. She said he put dumbbells over her neck, suffocated her with a pillow, and would place belts and ropes around her neck and strangle her. She said he also forced her to participate in perverted sexual acts.

According to the document, she said he told her he had raped a dog and that he had sexually abused a baby in diapers.

Donald Southworth had guns and threatened Nirmayati Southworth so she wouldn't leave him, she told the officials.

"He told her, 'I will kill you. If I can't have you, no one will. I will hunt you down and kill you,'" the document says.

A "consistent threat and theme" throughout the case is the "use of poison/drugs as a form of control," according to the document filed by prosecutors.

Donald Southworth "said he was educated in chemistry and knew about chemicals that could be used to poison a person without it being detected. He told her (Nirmayati Southworth) he had poisoned his mother and she had gradually gotten sick. He told her how to poison a co-worker she was having issues with by putting a laundry detergent on her food in small amounts so it would slowly affect her central nervous system," the document says. Donald Southworth also told her if he ever thought she was trying to leave him, he would poison her and make her sick, and she would be totally dependent on him, the document says.

The document says that other women in Donald Southworth's life, including Geetha Harward and Yogi Hesti Johnson, who has a child with Southworth, have said that Southworth had used his knowledge of drugs or poison to control them also. Both Harward and Johnson have accused Donald Southworth of assaulting them in the past.

At one point after Umi Southworth's death, Yogi Hesti Johnson was granted custody of Donald and Umi Southworth's daughter, Almira Southworth, a well-known child folk singer.

The defense document says that for evidence of uncharged crimes to be admitted at trial, the court must conduct a three-part inquiry. It says the court must determine whether the evidence is relevant to some issue other than the accused's criminal disposition. If it is, the document says, the court must next determine whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant its introduction. Then, it says, the court must decide whether the potential for prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence.

"In this case, the commonwealth did not, and cannot, explain how the other crimes evidence demonstrates that defendant had the opportunity to kill his wife," the defense document says.

The defense document asks the court to enter an order prohibiting prosecutors from introducing any evidence of other acts or uncharged crimes. If the court disagrees, the defense says it wants the trial, scheduled for January, to be continued and Donald Southworth's bond to be reduced to an amount he can afford to pay. The defense also wants at least six weeks set aside for the trial.

The "lack of physical evidence and the absence of inculpatory admissions by defendant present huge obstacles for the commonwealth in proving its case," the defense document says. "To compensate for this lack of evidence, the commonwealth seeks to turn this trial into an all-out character assassination of unprecedented proportions. Defendant's right to a fair trial is empty of meaning if this court allows such a spectacle to occur."

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