Crime

Donald Southworth enters Alford plea to manslaughter in 2010 death of his wife

Don Southworth and Umi Southworth in 2009.
Don Southworth and Umi Southworth in 2009. Courtesy of Eymard Meneses Cabling

Donald Southworth has entered an Alford plea to a charge of first-degree manslaughter in the 2010 death of his wife, Umi Southworth.

Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson said Southworth, 53, entered the plea Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court. Defendants who enter an Alford plea do not admit guilt but acknowledge there is enough evidence to convict them.

A jury convicted Southworth of murder in 2012, but the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

Southworth was scheduled to be retried beginning Feb. 18.

Larson said the commonwealth is recommending a 16-year sentence, including time served.

Umi Southworth, 44, was found naked and severely beaten beneath a box spring in a brushy area behind her home on Meadowthorpe Avenue on June 9, 2010. A belt was wrapped around her neck, according to investigators.

Officers who responded thought Umi Southworth was dead and didn’t call for medical treatment. After officials with the coroner’s office discovered three hours later that she was alive, she was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where she died the next day.

The case resulted in policy changes requiring police to call medical personnel to the scenes of apparent homicides.

A jury found Donald Southworth, a UPS truck driver, guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison in February 2012. He would have been eligible for parole consideration after 20 years.

But in March 2014, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence, saying prosecutors failed to prove that Southworth took a used condom from a neighbor’s trash can and planted semen from it on Umi Southworth’s body. That evidence was ruled inadmissible.

Larson said Monday that the court had put “very significant limitations” on the evidence that could be produced at the retrial, and the case already was based on “circumstantial” evidence.

He said Umi Southworth’s relatives “were very ecstatic about” not having to go through another trial.

“They did not want to do it,” he said.

Southworth was sent to Northpoint Training Center, a medium-security state prison in Boyle County, after his conviction but has been held in the Fayette County jail while awaiting retrial.

He is scheduled for sentencing March 11, Larson said.

Several unusual details in the case led to significant media attention during and before the first trial.

Reports at the time said Umi Southworth, an employee of Fazoli’s headquarters, had been preparing to divorce her husband and move to Nashville with the couple’s daughter, Almira Fawn Southworth, who at the time was 12 and an aspiring folk musician.

Donald Southworth also had a daughter with Yogi Hesti Johnson, a woman who lived with the Southworths and whom he allegedly considered his second wife.

Almira went to Nashville to live with a couple who were friends of her mother and were involved in the music industry, according to testimony during Donald Southworth’s 2012 trial.

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