A woman who spent more than two years in jail before she was cleared of killing her Marine husband with arsenic questioned Friday how prosecutors could sleep at night, now knowing that new tests showed no traces of poison.
Cynthia Sommer, 34, said she barely slept herself on her first night of freedom after a San Diego Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed charges that she poisoned her husband in 2002.
She was convicted of first-degree murder in January 2007 after initial tests of Sgt. Todd Sommer’s liver showed levels of arsenic 1,020 times above normal.
But prosecutors found no traces of poison in previously untested tissue as they prepared for a second trial. A judge had ordered a new trial in November after finding she had ineffective representation from her former attorney.
At her trial, prosecutors argued that Sommer used her husband’s life insurance to pay for breast implants and pursue a more luxurious lifestyle.
With no proof that Sommer was the source of the arsenic detected in her husband’s liver, the government relied heavily on circumstantial evidence of Sommer’s financial debt and later spending sprees to show that she had a motive to kill her 23-year-old husband.
'I did what I did' Sommer criticized prosecutors for questioning her behavior after her husband’s death, saying, “I did what I did.”
She was set free within hours of the judge’s ruling and emerged from the Las Colinas Detention Facility in suburban Santee.
“The only question I have for (prosecutors) is how they sleep at night?” Sommer said.
Her attorney, Allen Bloom, said he felt the evidence was contaminated. “We’ve said that all along,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
Bloom accused the district attorney of “gross negligence.”
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis defended her handling of the case Friday, saying that justice was served and that her office acted appropriately.
Earlier samples contaminated? “We did what we were supposed to do,” Dumanis told KFMB-TV. “We’re all looking backwards now and second-guessing everything.”
A recently retained government expert speculated that the earlier samples were contaminated, prosecutors wrote in a motion filed in court. The expert said he found the initial results “very puzzling” and “physiologically improbable.”
Todd Sommer was in top physical condition when he collapsed and died Feb. 18, 2002, at the couple’s home on the Marine Corps’ Miramar base in San Diego. His death was initially ruled a heart attack.
Dumanis said Thursday there was no proof of contamination but offered no other explanation. She said she didn’t know how the tissue may have been contaminated.
“We had an expert who said it was arsenic and no reason to doubt that evidence,” Dumanis said. “The bottom line was, ’Was there arsenic in Mr. Sommer causing his death?’ Our results showed that there was.”
Sommer said she wasn’t sure what she would do now that she was out of jail. She was looking forward to seeing her four children, ages 8 to 16.
“It’s already been an incredible day. I can’t wait to finish it,” she said.