Crime

Jury selection begins Monday in Southworth murder trial

A bearded Donald Southworth, 49, entered the courtroom Nov. 18 for an appearance before Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell. His wife, Umi, 44. was found severely beaten outside her home in the Meadowthorpe subdivision on June 9, 2010. She died the next day.
A bearded Donald Southworth, 49, entered the courtroom Nov. 18 for an appearance before Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell. His wife, Umi, 44. was found severely beaten outside her home in the Meadowthorpe subdivision on June 9, 2010. She died the next day.

Prosecutors have said that Donald Southworth had a pattern of control over the women in his life, and his loss of control over his wife, Umi, led him to kill her.

Defense attorneys have said a lack of physical evidence and the absence of inculpatory admissions by Southworth are "huge obstacles" for prosecutors in proving their case against him.

Selection of a jury, which will decide Southworth's guilt or innocence, is set to begin Monday in Fayette Circuit Court. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

The death of Umi Southworth, 44, in 2010 drew international attention because Lexington police did not realize for more than three hours after arriving at the scene on Meadowthorpe Avenue that the badly beaten woman they found in bushes was still alive. Umi Southworth was taken to a hospital, where she died the next day, June 10, 2010. Lexington police have since made changes in how they handle crimes involving injury or death.

Donald Southworth, 49, was indicted and arrested on a charge of murder in his wife's death almost a year after she died. His arrest came just hours after he filed court papers to become administrator of her estate. He indicated in court documents that he intended to file a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and his and Umi Southworth's daughter, Almira Fawn Southworth. The girl, now 14, is a well-known folk singer in the area.

Since then, a flurry of documents, including motions and responses to those motions, has been filed in the murder case, some of which are under seal. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been tight-lipped throughout the months leading to the trial.

But many details about the case and the lives of Donald Southworth, a UPS truck driver, and Umi Southworth, who had been an accountant at the Fazoli's restaurant chain's headquarters in Lexington and who was a former eighth-grade science teacher at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, have come to public light.

According to a document filed by the defense, Umi Southworth was beaten with a large tree branch, and a belt was found around her neck.

Defense attorneys also say in the document that the branch and the belt contained no DNA belonging to Donald Southworth and that semen found in Umi Southworth's body did not belong to her husband.

Prosecutors have filed documents asking whether evidence allegedly showing that Donald Southworth has a history of domestic violence and sexual perversions could be used in the trial. Prosecutors say other women in Southworth's life have said he tried to control them and had assaulted them.

The women include Nirmayati Ching Lee Southworth, who married Donald Southworth in 1983, staged an abduction in 1992 to get away from him and has tried to stay hidden from him since, according to a document filed in court by prosecutors. Nirmayati Southworth has told officials that Donald Southworth controlled her through mental and physical abuse, according to the document.

Prosecutors also mention alleged domestic violence involving Yogi Hesti, who lived with Donald and Umi Southworth at one time and has a daughter with Donald Southworth; and Geetha Harward, who was engaged to be married to Donald Southworth at one time.

It is unclear what testimony and evidence pertaining to these women that Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell will allow at the trial.

Defense attorney Mike Rowland said Bunnell had made some rulings about the admissibility of evidence from Southworth's previous relationships, but he said much of the information had been sealed so he could not talk about it.

"I can't really comment on the specifics of what the judge is going to let in and let out," he said.

During a hearing Friday, the judge ruled that evidence seized and photographed in the apartment building where Donald and Umi Southworth lived, including evidence from the basement, which was accessible to all of the building's tenants, could be used at trial.

Forensic testing showed no evidence of blood inside a washing machine in the basement that was used by the Southworths, so police did not seize the machine or any of the clothes that had been inside it, according to police testimony during Friday's hearing. Damp clothing — including Donald Southworth's work uniform, shoes, a pair of women's panties and a pair of pajama pants — was found inside the washing machine, according to testimony.

Police photographed the washing machine. Police Sgt. Allen Dobson testified that the washing machine had been set on its hottest setting, saying that was significant because "the hotter the water, the more likely it is to destroy organic evidence."

It also was learned at Friday's hearing that no blood was found in the Southworths' apartment.

Rowland said later that Donald Southworth is anxious for the trial to start.

"He is obviously anxious," he said, "and wants to get into court and wants the evidence process to start so he can establish his innocence."

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