May 20, 2009

Reporter's notebook: Cindy Sommer update

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.

Cynthia Sommer

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 faced life in prison without the possibility of parole but, after much litigation, the trial judge didn’t sentence her. Instead, in late November 2007, he set aside the conviction and granted Sommer a new trial, in part because of the ineffectiveness of her attorney at trial.

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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Dan Darner   May 20th, 2009 10:30 am ET

Justice is truth, the truth is the trooper didn't just "run" a stop sign, he blew it off! Why isn't anybody examining how many tickets this guy wrote in that immediate area. You can't convince me he wouldn't have known a stop a sign was there. He took a chance and the girls paid for it!

DSB   May 20th, 2009 1:13 pm ET

I am in Law Enforcement in the Tri-State area and am DEEPLY sadend by this trial! Our jobs are VERY difficult and extremely dangerous to ourselves and our families who support our career choice. We deal with lack of respect from communities and are constantly scrutinized by our choices. So much so we have to fear using our fire arms or anything we have on our belts to tactically assist us. For fear of criminal charges fear of disciplinary actions and fear of CIVIL lawsuits! Yes, I agree chasing a traffic violation is a bad choice, but CRIMINAL? NO! How about we do a study on how many POLICE Officer's are injured while performing our duties, and have to retire because the Court system releases repeat offender's. Our court system is Criminal. Our juries are tainted and are biased. In communities of high crime we are abused, yet have no recourse. I pray for a NOT GULITY verdict. Why are we out their risking our lives and freedom for a society who persecutes a BAD CHOICE!?

NYPrincessTt   May 21st, 2009 9:57 am ET

DSB- Because this officer's 'bad choice' cost 2 innocent victims their lives. What if it was a member of your family? What if they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed by one of your fellow officers who made a similar 'bad choice'? Would you just chalk it up to an accident that couldn't be helped by an officer 'risking his life' to persue a SPEEDER? or, would you recognize that this officer took unneccessary risks with the lives of all the other people on the road to vigorously persue someone for a TRAFFIC INFRACTION? By the way, did you chose to take up this VERY difficult profession on your own, or were you somehow forced into it, not knowing the difficulties, stress, and dangers the job posed to you and your familiy? And, I applaud your 'fear' of using your firearm and other items on your belt (presumably taser, billie club, etc.) as these should be a last resort. Or, would you SHOOT a SPEEDER if not for the fear of criminal charges, disciplinary actions, or lawsuits? Hopefully, lawsuits like this provide not only justice for the victims and their families, but also food for thought for officers who are quick to run stop signs or pull out their weapons in situations where that kind of action is not warranted.

Cathy from TX   May 21st, 2009 3:17 pm ET

I watched the coverage of yur trial daily thanks to this wonderful network.&felt all along u had inefective councel. I'M glad u recvd the 2nd chance u got.??Is there a time limit on how long they can wait to "Dismiss with prejudice"? & Can the courts continue to post-pone the hearing while they "loose" your evidence? I will pray for you and your kids & I hope u will find some sense of normalcy and regularity for your lives. Great job reeporting CNN. Keep up the good work.

lised   May 26th, 2009 6:13 pm ET

Great article on the justiice system gone bad. Cynthia Sommer was found guilty of bad behavior following her husband's death and was sentenced to life. I could not imagine the jury found her guilty when the evidence was sooo weak, prosecution produced flimsy evidence you could purchase arsenic on the Internet but never produced evidence Cynthia did. Yes, see got a boob job, had sex with several different men, showed off her new boobs in public and for these offenses she is found guilty. I didn't believe it. Judge Deddah didn't believe it. In fact, how could the DA really believe it.
Hopefully, the DA will either give up or the court will rule for dismissal with prejudice soon and she can get on with her life.

emil   May 27th, 2009 9:21 pm ET

Our system needs an overhaul – for all who come into contact with the criminal justice system. They are paying their debt with the setence as deemed appropriate by legistlation, judges, etc. Upon aquittal, reversal, or even release – these consequeces follow them for life. Unable to find employment, rent housing, obtain credit... all of those things do not just disappear. It remains on the record, publicly available, and haunts them for life. Even just the stigma can ruin a person's chances... and for what purpose?

an ordinary wife   June 28th, 2009 11:35 pm ET

This case really bothers me. One night I woke up to a noise and found my husband laying in blood (later learned that he had a seizure). I really thought that he would be gone when I was calling 911, and remembered yelling at the person who was helping me on the phone while doing everything he told me to because I was so desperate for him to send me the aid. I respect people react differently, but believe they have to be consistent. Cindy's 911 call included her talking to her husband, "I love you, please don't do this to me......" I had a hard time seeing this person being the same one telling her mom-in-law to mind her own business because she had her own way to grieve, and spent $5,400 for a breasts transplant a few months later after her husband's death but claimed that she was worried about the finance because of the 4 kids, not to mention, the surgery was planned before the husband's death. Something some where just doesn't add up......

CatToy   July 7th, 2009 3:19 pm ET

In response to AOW's comments, rest assured you should feel lucky he didn't die and you were found responsible for his death all the while INNOCENT. And here you are still, trying to condemn a woman for how she reacted to death. Until you've been in this exact situation, you will never know how you will handle it. I have seen this type of grieving at it's worst, and believe you me, you will do ANYTHING to feel again, ANYTHING to feel better ANYTHING to make the pain, of Grief Dissolve.
For shame to come here, after she was aquitted and you still want to convict her based on her post behavior of her loving husbands death.
Being a military wife of 20 yrs as well, you have know idea how close some of our "brothers" are. Nor do you understand what living this life entails. The closeness; the parties, the sharing, the love and friendship. Cindy was innocent. Cindy IS Innocent, and I still wish her well, in all her future endeavors. Juries convict on evidence not on boob jobs, and who sleeps with whom and when. That evidence alone, was not evidence indicative of any CRIME being committed. There was no arsenic. And unless you know this case inside out, and the SCIENCE of it, you have no business condemning Ms Sommer.

One day, you will lose your partner. How you handle that, especially in the moments of needing someone to hold you, and more, hopefully will never convict you of first degree murder with special circumstances.
I'm glad the Innocence Project Listened to all of our letters. And the Judge to Boot.
OooRa Cindy, go on with your life best you can.

Cat Toy aka Kat in WV

Anon   October 5th, 2009 8:14 am ET

I watched this on Snapped recently. I cannot believe how hypercritcal people are of "how people act after you loose a spouse". I am sorry, but noone should make those judgements on another person. The evidence was so weak from the beginning! It reeked of contamination. I dont know how that prosecution even decided to go forward with that!

One thing that watching this story has made me do is look straight up at facts of a case. Not actions, not anything but the evidence! If people would have done that from the begininning, this poor woman would have never gone to jail!!

sexy   November 8th, 2009 10:24 pm ET

something about thid doesnt make sense. I think they need to futher investergate before they totally dismiss. There are guys this happens to all the time that spend 10 years are more in jail for a crime they didnt committ they are released and they are black why is such a big deal being made of her is it color......... I feel the system is totally messed up yes it is a color thing and it needs to change. I feel that they need to totally investagate this case cause it dosent add up

joejoe_no1   August 22nd, 2010 9:20 pm ET

I feel like they left this with prejudice to stop Cindy Sommers from being able to sue the Marines. She needs to be repayed for all of the money she and her parents spent and for losing her life for so many years. In fact, she is still trying to gain custody of her two children. They put all of her business in the street. They completely ruined her relationship with Todd's family. Even if they know that she didn't do it, they still know of her behavior after the death which were absolutely a result of her falling apart. If she really was a "loose woman", they would have had evidence of her sleeping around during their marriage. Her children know about those things, her neighbors, the entire United States. She deserves millions and I pray that she goes after it and gets it.

jamie   September 1st, 2011 1:24 pm ET

what happened to cindy sommer was just out of order her husband died of a heartattack and she gets sent to prison and the released without one word of sorry for blaming her of todds death just see how justice works at times

Colleen   June 10th, 2012 4:03 pm ET

My husband died of a heart attack at 37. My world came to an end and all I wanted to do was commit suicide. For my parents sake I did not and every day I forced myself to get out of bed and get dressed and get on with my life. I attended parties with my friends because I needed to be around people. There are pictures of me smiling from that time but no one could see the emptiness inside of me.

Everyone is entitled to give an opinion but unless you have lost a spouse, you do not know (and I hope you never do) how you would react in a tragedy like this. Everyone grieves differently. There are no rules.

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