Join Date: February 12, 2006
Prosecutor: Wife poisoned Marine, spent life insurance on breast implants
SAN DIEGO (Court TV) - A prosecutor told jurors Thursday that 33-year-old Cynthia Sommer was the only person greedy enough to murder her husband for his military benefits and close enough to poison him to death with arsenic.
"Arsenic is, in many ways, the perfect poison," Deputy District Attorney Laura Gunn said during opening statements in Sommer's first-degree murder trial. "It is colorless, odorless, tasteless. It's lethal in very small doses ... it is accessible to the general public: You can get it."
Within one month of the death of U.S. Marine Sgt. Todd Sommer, defendant Cynthia Sommer - a mother of four who earned minimum wage at a Subway sandwich shop - received $250,000 in life insurance.
Prosecutors claim she killed her husband and wasted no time spending the money on shopping sprees, wild parties, and breast implants.
Investigators admit, however, that they have no evidence linking Sommer to the poisoning.
"There is not one document. Not one piece of physical evidence to connect Cindy to arsenic, or even an attempt to get arsenic. Nothing," defense attorney Robert Udell said during his opening statement.
Udell said Sommer was deeply in love with her 23-year-old husband - whose first name is tattooed on her right shoulder - and promised to show jurors the love letters the couple had written each other.
"Cindy was happy as a lark. She was living the life she's always wanted to live," Udell said. "The evidence will show that her dream in life, her goal in life, was to be the wife of a Marine."
Cynthia Arlene Sommer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and the special circumstance of murder by poison and murder for financial gain.
She was extradited in March to California from her home in West Palm Beach , Fla., and is being held in prison without bond. If convicted, she faces life in prison without parole.
Defense attorney Udell called Todd Sommer a "knight in shining armor," who married the defendant in July 1999 after a six-month courtship.
"She could not have asked for a more perfect man: A military man. God-fearing ... he was the man of her dreams," Udell said.
Todd Sommer collapsed at the couple's home at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego on Feb. 18, 2002.
The family had just returned from a trip to Knott's Berry Farm with their infant son, and Sommer's three children from a previous marriage.
In a frantic 911 call played for jurors Thursday, Sommer was heard attempting CPR on her husband while begging for emergency services to hurry.
"She's trying to resuscitate him. She calls 911 so they can come and save the love of her life," Udell told jurors. "She says, 'Todd, don't do this to me. What am I going to do without you?' She's watching her knight in shining armor die in front of her."
Prosecutor Gunn painted a different picture of the death scene, based on what paramedics found when they arrived.
"He didn't breathe, he didn't speak, he never had a pulse the entire time. All they saw was Todd Sommer - this young, healthy Marine &- collapsed in his bedroom on the floor. His lips were blue, he was not breathing ... he had urinated on himself. That's what they saw when they arrived," Gunn said.
Sommer told investigators that her husband had become "violently ill" 10 days before his death, with severe nausea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. She said he sought medical treatment at the base clinic on Feb. 10 and 12 after eating bad egg rolls at a roadside gas station. Medical records confirmed her statements.
An autopsy revealed nothing, and his death was noted as probable heart failure. As part of military policy, tissue samples were collected and frozen for later testing. His body was cremated.
But in May 2003, more than a y ear after Sommer's death, heavy-metal tests revealed arsenic levels in his liver that were more than 1,000 times the acceptable level, as well as elevated arsenic levels in his kidneys and other tissues.
Todd Sommer's cause of death was changed to "acute arsenic poisoning" and the manner of death to "homicide."
When Naval Criminal Investigative Services dug into the couple's background, it discovered that the family had been in dire financial straits.
"They found that Cynthia Sommer liked to go shopping a lot," Gunn told jurors.
The prosecutor said the couple had student loans in default, had borrowed money from their parents, and that in just two years of marriage, they had used up Todd Sommer's entire trust fund account.
"They had drained the entire fund to a balance of zero," Gunn said. "The balance of zero happened ... eight days before Todd Sommer got sick."
On Feb. 8 - 10 days before her husband's death - Cynthia Sommer visited a plastic surgeon in La Jolla and had a "before" photo taken in preparation for breast augmentation, Gunn said. She was quoted $5,400 for the surgery.
While Sommer may have hoped for bigger breasts, Gunn said, she had only $280 in the bank at the time.
The day after her husband's death, Sommer received a "death gratuity payment" of $6,000, according to Gunn.
A month later, she received $250,000 from her husband's life insurance policy.
On April 18, Sommer had breast-implant surgery. Prosecution witnesses are expected to testify that she also frequented dating Web sites and became romantically involved with another Marine in April.
Defense attorney Udell said his client had no financial motive to kill the man who was "the love of her life," and that she and her children were able to live rent-free in military housing, and receive free medical care and discounted food as long as her husband was alive.
"If the motive for killing Todd was money," Udell said, "this cost her significantly."
Testimony r esumes Monday. The trial is being streamed live on Court TV Extra.