LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Prosecutors failed to prove that a man placed semen from a used condom at the scene of his wife’s slaying and shouldn’t have been able to introduce it as evidence, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday in overturning a Lexington man’s murder conviction and life sentence.
Justice Mary Noble wrote for the court that 52-year-old Donald Southworth, who is in prison, should get a new trial in the 2010 death of Umi Southworth. Noble’s decision centers on evidence being admitted that Southworth took a used condom he took from a neighbor’s trash and later used it to plant semen on his wife’s body, prosecutors said, to stage a sexual assault.
Noble concluded that the evidence was inadmissible because prosecutors failed to show Southworth planted it.
The evidence also was inadmissible because it requires proof that the condom was the unique method Southworth used to place the semen inside his wife’s body, Noble wrote. Prosecutors failed to show that Southworth’s knowledge of how to store and preserve it was relevant because they didn’t show how the semen ended up on his wife, Noble wrote.
“In this case, the Commonwealth offered no proof that the semen was placed in Umi by means other than sexual intercourse with the man who produced the semen,” Noble wrote.
Umi Southworth was found hidden behind the couple’s home, beaten with a belt wrapped around her neck, but there were no marks on her neck to show the belt was used to kill her. The 2012 trial received scads of public attention and was based largely on circumstantial evidence, with little physical evidence - such as fingerprints or DNA - linking Southworth to the slaying.
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.
Scott said Southworth showed a capacity to transfer the used condom and semen to Umi Southworth’s body, creating a unique “signature” at the crime scene.
“Either way, Appellant’s ability to perform an act most people would be unwilling to do, however, or unable to even think up, differentiates him from other persons who may have committed the crime and it should be admissible as circumstantial evidence of the Appellant’s identity as perpetrator of the murder,” Scott wrote in dissent.
Police investigating the scene found Umi Southworth lying face down under a box spring set with a head wound. No one realized she was still alive until several hours later a coroner arrived at the scene. Umi Southworth died later at a local hospital. Prosecutors said it appeared Southworth tried to stage the crime scene as a sexual assault and slaying.
Prosecutors described Southworth as controlling and jealous as the couple prepared to divorce.
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