updated 6/29/2004 6:55:34 PM ET 2004-06-29T22:55:34

A hospice nurse was acquitted Tuesday of charges that she fatally poisoned her husband so she could inherit his $15 million fortune.

Judge Daniel R. Bouton ruled that prosecutors failed to prove their case that Donna Somerville, 51, administered a lethal drug overdose to Hamilton Somerville at their sprawling Virginia estate in 2001.

“Mrs. Somerville is acquitted, but Mrs. Somerville will also have to live with what happened,” prosecutor Randy Krantz said outside court.

The judge heard the case without a jury because the defense feared a jury — even one brought in from another county — would be influenced by extensive news coverage of the drama.

Somerville and her lawyers left without talking to reporters.

Hamilton Somerville’s three daughters from a previous marriage embraced and wept after the verdict was announced.

Nurse was caretaker in 1990
“The judge did what he thought was right,” Alita Miller said. “We all have to abide by that. I have to try to find some peace with this.”

The couple met in 1990 when Hamilton Somerville, a rancher, hired her to take care of his cancer-stricken wife. They got married less than a year after the wife died — Donna Somerville’s fourth marriage.

Prosecutors portrayed her as a gold digger who seduced Hamilton Somerville into a quickie marriage and eventually grew tired of him, having affairs with several men. The couple’s holdings include their 345-acre Mount Athos estate, once owned by James Madison’s family.

“Donna Somerville was opportunistic, she was selfish, she saw the opportunity and she went for it,” Krantz said in his closing arguments.

Prosecutors contended that Somerville’s work as a volunteer hospice nurse gave her access to the drugs that killed Hamilton Somerville. However, there was no testimony that she ever possessed the drugs or that any of her patients were missing medication.

The defense contended Hamilton Somerville died of a heart attack or took the lethal dosage of drugs on his own. In closing arguments, Somerville’s lawyer said the evidence “cries out for an acquittal.”

Prosecutor Mark Robinette said poisoning murders are the toughest type of circumstantial evidence cases to prove.

“We put on everything we had. It just wasn’t quite enough,” he said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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