May 20, 2009
Posted: 08:21 AM ET
NEW YORK–Last month, on the one-year anniversary of her release from a San Diego County jail, Cindy Sommer reflected on the events in her life that led to that day. She had spent two and half years in jail on charges that she murdered her husband Todd in 2002, an active-duty Marine.
Sommer wasn’t arrested for almost four years, and only after the Navy decided to test some of Todd Sommer’s tissues preserved from autopsy. The tissues had fatally high levels of arsenic, leading authorities to reclassify his death a homicide.
By this time, Sommer had started a new life in Florida with her four children. She always denied poisoning her husband, but a jury disagreed, and convicted Sommer of first-degree murder in January 2007.
Sommer had to sit in jail awaiting the new trial. In the meantime, convinced that earlier tests finding arsenic were flawed, her new attorney demanded that the prosecution look for more preserved tissues taken at autopsy. Luckily for Sommer, the state found some tissues that were frozen in another government lab. These samples were tested for arsenic in early 2008 and yielded a totally unexpected result: negative for arsenic. The San Diego District Attorney immediately moved for Sommer’s release. The charges were dismissed, for the time being, and Sommer walked out of jail on April 17, 2008.
Sommer now wants the dismissal of the murder charges to be “with prejudice,” which means they can never be reinstated. At the moment, the dismissal is “without prejudice.” And that’s where the matter stands right now. Sommer’s court date earlier this month has been rescheduled to August 28, at the prosecution’s request. She is hopeful that the DA will concede, on that date, that the matter should go away forever.
Meanwhile, Sommer is trying to get her life back and appears to be doing well. She is focused and driven. Sommer is enrolled full-time at a university where she is studying business, and also works about 30 hours a week. She has custody of her two older children, Jenna, 17, and Graham, 14. She is trying to get full custody of the younger children, Bailey, 13, and Christian, 9, who is Todd’s son. He was not even two years old when his father died. At the moment, Sommer shares custody of Bailey and Christian with her brother, who raised them during the years she was incarcerated.
I spoke with Sommer recently. She described her daily struggle to transition back to life on the outside. At one point, Sommer compared herself to a fire victim, whose possessions are all lost. But a fire victim, she said, doesn’t lose her bank account and credit history. Nor does a fire victim have to explain to potential employers what she does: a big hole in her resume—what she was doing between November 2005 and April 2008.
Recently, Sommer reached out to organizations like the Innocence Project where, no doubt, she could be a great asset. While Sommer resents the hurdles that come with explaining her arrest, trial, conviction, and dismissal, she has a lot to be thankful for. She came very close to being sentenced to state prison. Once there, an appeal based on the very same issues the trial judge heard, post-conviction, would have taken years and could have resulted in an affirmance of the conviction, especially if, after several more years, those frozen, arsenic-free tissues could no longer be located.
–Beth Karas, In Session correspondent
Filed under: Case Updates
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