The few. The proud. The Marines. This is the story of one of them.
But it's not just the story of Sgt. Todd Sommer's life -- it's also the story of his mysterious and untimely death
It happened not on the shores of Tripoli, but in his own bedroom.
(911 call)911 dispatch: 911. Do you have an emergency?Cindy Sommer: Yeah, my husband just collapsed.
This is also the story of the woman who loved him.
(911 call)Cindy Sommer: Todd, I love you, please don't do this to me. What am I going to do without you?
It was Feb. 18, 2002, at the Miramar Marine Base near San Diego.
(911 call)911 dispatch: Is he still conscious?Cindy Sommer: No.911 dispatch: Are they there right now ma'am?Cindy Sommer: I don't know ... Hey, right here.911 dispatch: Are they there?Cindy Sommer: Yeah.
But there was nothing medics could do. At only 23 years old, Todd Sommer was dead. The autopsy said it was a heart attack. But did that even make sense?
Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: We have a responsibility to look at all avenues of whether or not there was foul play here.
Rob Terwilliger is a special agent for NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, charged with investigating the death of any active Marine who didn't die in battle.
Todd's death was not considered suspicious, but it did raise questions.
Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: Even though this appeared to be a natural death that occurred in the home, you have a 23-year-old Marine with no clear health issues.
But if it was a mystery to investigators, it was devastating for Cindy Sommer. Her life with the man she described as her “knight in shining armor” had come to an abrupt end.
Cindy had met Todd Sommer three years earlier, when he was only 20. She was five years older, recently separated from her husband, with three young children.
But she was fun, beautiful, and full of energy. The two had an instant connection, both physical and romantic.
To Cindy, Todd was everything she wanted. She liked Marines, liked the strength they projected. Todd was also the kind of guy who didn't see her three young children as "baggage." He was well-off by Marine standards, the beneficiary of a trust fund of about $29,000. And he was eager to step up and become the father her kids needed.
Terwilliger: The main focus was that he loved her. He enjoyed having her kids.
When Cindy saw Todd in his full dress uniform, she was dazzled. A single parent without much money, she was proud to marry a Marine and in more than one sense he came to her rescue.
Terwilliger: He was a young man who had found his calling in the United States Marine Corps.
In December, 1999, Cindy, along with her three children, moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where Todd was stationed.
But almost immediately, romance was crushed by reality when Todd’s unit was sent overseas.
Rick Rendone is also an NCIS agent.
Rick Rendone, NCIS: They're living in base housing at Camp Lejeune, and Todd being in a deployable unit immediately thrusts the family into a situation where she's essentially a single mom again.
But the honeymoon continued as best it could for a deployed Marine and his new wife. Todd and Cindy exchanged romantic love letters while he was at sea. When they finally reunited, Cindy says their love burned stronger than ever.
The following year, Cindy and Todd welcomed a son, Christian. They were thrilled.
In 2001, the family moved to sunny San Diego, living on base at Miramar Naval Air Station. It's not a life of luxury.
Todd's take-home pay as a Marine was pretty modest, about $1,700 a month. Even with benefits like medical care and this home on the base in Miramar, that's not a lot of money for two adults and four young children, and it wasn't long before the Sommer family got into financial trouble.
To make ends meet, Cindy began working at Subway, making sandwiches for about $7 an hour. That's where Cindy made friends with Chantra Wells.
Chantra Wells: She was a really nice girl. You know, she was really easy to get along with. And she made friends easily.
Though Chantra didn't know Cindy until after Todd died, she heard her talk about their great life together.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC: What kind of guy was he? How was their marriage?Chantra Wells: They had a good marriage, you know. He was great with the kids and loved her. And she loved him.
And now suddenly he was gone. Cindy recalls few warning signs in the days that led up to his death. Todd had missed Valentines' Day because of what seemed like a stomach bug. But he wasn't the type of guy to let that get in the way of a family outing two days later. Cindy and Todd treated their kids to a day at an amusement park. It was the day before Todd died.
Josh Mankiewicz: They go to Knott's Berry Farm on Friday.Rob Terwilliger: And return on Sunday the 17th. And, according to Cindy’s statement, they go to bed. And somewhere around 1:30, 2 o'clock timeframe he gets up out of bed. Turns on the light. Says that he didn't feel good. And, he collapses. And she says that she calls 911. Cindy Sommer: What do I do?911 dispatch: OK, stay on the line, OK?Cindy Sommer: What do I do? Can I -- can I --911 dispatch: Just stand by right now, OK, ma’am?Cindy Sommer: Todd, honey, Todd. Can I -- can I -- can I give him – uh, can I -- can I do CPR?911 dispatch: OK, do -- are you doing CPR?Cindy Sommer: Can I?911 dispatch: Do you know how?
Paramedics were on the way. Cindy tried to save him.
It didn't make any sense. He was a healthy young man who hardly ever got sick.
Paramedics rushed him to the hospital. But about an hour after the initial 911 call, in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2002, the doctor pronounced Todd Sommer dead. He was 23 years old.
(Memorial tape)He was a great husband, a great father, and a great Marine.
At his memorial, Cindy eulogized Todd, describing a life full of tenderness.
(Cindy Sommer)Every night before he went to bed, he gave me a hug and a kiss and he said that “I love you. I'll see you in the morning. Say your prayers." And he would always say that to me and I still say that to him every night because I will see him again one day.
As Todd was laid to rest, the questions were already being asked by Todd’s parents, by his family, by his friends.
How could a perfectly healthy young Marine just drop dead, without warning?
A young wife, suddenly a widow, was forced to say goodbye to the man she not only loved, but depended on to help raise her four small children.
But what was it that killed Todd Sommer at only 23? As investigators looked at his last hours, they did not immediately suspect foul play. To them, it seemed more of a medical mystery.
Terwilliger, NCIS: He initially began to develop symptoms of illness on Friday, Feb. 8. And, the days after that, the symptoms got worse. Diarrhea, a bloody diarrhea, vomiting.
Cindy remembers Todd eating an egg roll from a gas station mini mart, and the next day showing signs of what looked like food poisoning. Todd visited the base clinic, where he was prescribed antibiotics and told to wait it out, but soon the symptoms got worse. Cindy started to worry.
Terwilliger: She made a point of calling not only her mother, but Sgt. Sommer's mother and asking them what she should do.
After a few days, when things didn't get better, Todd took some sick days and went back to the clinic.
Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC: For him to stay home, he had to be pretty sick.Rob Terwilliger: Yes. He's dehydrated. He was prescribed with medications in order to, in their mind, treat the symptoms of what, again, they believed to be some kind of gastroenteritis.
That was the last medical care Todd Sommer received before he died. So what had happened? Over the next year, NCIS investigators kept the case open, still looking for answers.
Family and friends say Cindy was grieving but she was also trying her best to move forward. She met a new man, also a Marine, and moved with him to Florida.
More than a year after Todd died, NCIS prepared to close his case. But before that happened, investigators ordered one final test of tissues preserved from Todd’s autopsy -- just on a hunch.
Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: This fits the profile of somebody who may have been poisoned. They ran a heavy metals test and the test came back positive for the presence of arsenic.
Arsenic poisoning? It sounds like something out of the Victorian era, but investigators say the test left no doubt.
Josh Mankiewicz: That's the moment where this becomes a murder case.Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: Potentially a murder case.
So the investigation headed in a new direction. Had Todd somehow come in contact with arsenic through his Marine duties? It seemed unlikely. None of his fellow Marines were sick.
Another possible avenue: did Todd Sommer have enemies? Investigators put that question to Cindy.
Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: “Do you know anyone that would want to hurt Todd?” And she said no.Josh Mankiewicz: Did other Marines describe Todd as having any enemies? Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: No.Josh Mankiewicz: Well-liked?Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: Yes, well-liked. Well-respected in his workplace.Josh Mankiewicz: So it all keeps coming back to CindyTerwilliger: Yes.
To investigators, Cindy had a motive, the same one that's often described as the root of all evil.
Terwilliger: You have lethal levels of arsenic in a perfectly healthy young male and only one person benefitted from his death.
She benefited to the tune of a $6,000 immediate death gratuity, $250,000 in a service member's group life insurance policy, and a lifetime of VA Benefits.
That reasoning led investigators straight to Cindy Sommer’s front door in Florida. More than three years after her husband's death, Cindy was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A police audiotape captured her reaction.
(Audio recording)Cindy Sommer: What am I being arrested for?Investigator Schmidt: Like I told you yesterday, there was a foreign substance that was found in his body, OK, but before we go any further and start and... Cindy Sommer: So you are charging me with murder?Investigator Schmidt: You're--Cindy Sommer: Oh my gosh, are you serious?Investigator Schmidt: Yes.Cindy Sommer: What for – what foreign substance?
Had Todd Sommer been sleeping with the enemy? Or was NCIS trying to pin a murder on someone – anyone -- just to close the investigation on what was almost a cold case.
To defend her, Cindy immediately hired a prominent Florida defense attorney, Bob Udell. He's tried multiple capital cases over his more than 30-year career. But something about this case struck a chord with him.
Bob Udell: I knew the instant I met Cindy -- Cindy, she's innocent. Don't ask me why, I just knew.
It would become a personal quest to win her acquittal, but what the attorney didn't realize was that his newest client had already exposed some of her most personal secrets to investigators, in a revelation that would make this trial about the nexus between money, murder and the price of vanity.
Investigators had a theory.
Terwilliger, NCIS: If I had to typify it, it would be that she was looking for a new life. A better life.
On Jan. 4, 2007, nearly five years after Todd’s death, his wife's murder trial finally got under way.
The charge was first-degree murder with special circumstances: using poison, and something else, murdering for financial gain. From the start, prosecutor Laura Gunn zeroed in on that motive, which, in a word, was money.
(Opening statement in court)Laura Gunn, prosecutor: And investigators found out that over the course of the marriage, inside of two years, the couple had drained the entire trust fund down to a balance of zero. And the balance of zero happened on January 31, 2002. Eight days before Todd Sommer got sick.
Was it coincidence, the state asked jurors, that as the money disappeared, a man who hardly ever got sick started showing signs of terrible stomach problems? And those symptoms, prosecutors argued, pointed to a terrible truth.
Laura Gunn: In the week and a half before Todd died he suffered from acute gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea. All symptoms that are consistent with acute arsenic poisoning.
Prosecutors argued that Todd Sommer at first seemed like someone who could offer Cindy financial stability. They called the mother of her first husband to the stand.
Laura Gunn: What did she tell you about meeting Todd Sommer?Susie Peace: That he was gorgeous, tall strong. He was a Marine. He was down in Camp Lejeune. His parents were very wealthy. He had a big trust fund. Had a jet ski, a Honda. Seemed to be pretty well off for a young man.
Prosecutors suggested that this marriage cracked up when bill collectors started cracking down. Todd's mother Yvonne took the stand.
Laura Gunn: Was it your impression that your son and the defendant lived within their means?Yvonne Sommer: No, it’s not. They did not.
Prosecutor Gunn argued Cindy was so focused on money that even in the minutes after Todd’s death her concern wasn't about her dead husband, it was about cash flow.
Laura Gunn: Four inquiries about money in the first five hours.
Cindy talked about Todd’s life insurance policy to the paramedics who were treating him. At the hospital she asked Todd's superior if she would now have to pay back his reenlistment bonus. And with her husband dead only five hours, Cindy sought tax advice from the family accountant, Richard Overfield.
Richard Overfield: My words were “I’m sorry for your loss,” just offered my condolences, and Cindy said “Thanks, I have questions … What do we do since Todd is dead as far as getting his signature and filing the return?”
According to prosecutors, Cindy Sommer loved money, and needed more of it, immediately -- even if it would cost her husband his life. And when Todd died, they say, payday arrived.
Laura Gunn: Now, after Todd Sommer died Cynthia Sommer, the defendant, got some money. The first check she got was the next day after he died. She got a check for $6,000 dollars from the Navy called "the death gratuity payment" on Feb. 19, 2002. Then a month later, on March 18, 2002, she received the money from the service members group life insurance policy. And that was over a quarter of a million dollars.
To get that money, the state argued that Cindy had picked her poison well.
Laura Gunn: Arsenic is, in many ways, the perfect poison. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless. It comes in a liquid or powder. It's lethal in very small doses, maybe something about the size of an aspirin or two.
It was exactly, prosecutors said, the ideal murder weapon for a woman like Cindy Sommer -- someone who wanted Todd’s death to look like an accident.
Now, remember that frantic 911 call Cindy made when her husband collapsed?
Prosecutors argued that perhaps Cindy didn't really administer CPR at all, that she
was just play acting for the benefit of the 911 operator.
They suggested that it would be very hard to give CPR while simultaneously holding a phone to your ear.
Perhaps most damning of all, prosecutors focused on what Cindy did with both her newfound freedom -- and her newfound wealth.
She did set aside half of the life-insurance money for her kids and then paid off some family debts. But the naked truth about what Cindy did with some of the money left over is what made investigators do a double-take. She got breast implants. In fact, on the very same day Todd came down with that stomach bug, Cindy was talking to a doctor about cosmetic surgery.
Josh Mankiewicz: So the same days that Todd first got sick…Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: Yes.Josh Mankiewicz: Cindy, at a time when they had almost no money in their bank account...Rob Terwilliger: Nothing. No more than $300 in their bank account.Josh Mankiewicz: …was at a plastic surgeon's office talking to him about breast augmentation?Rob Terwilliger: That's correct.
That may not be the way widows typically grieve, but that was all the jury was supposed to hear about how Cindy conducted herself after Todd’s death. Her attorney, Bob Udell, had argued that much of Cindy’s private life after Todd died was irrelevant to the issue of whether or not she killed her husband.
And the judge agreed.
But then defense attorney Udell made a crucial error by putting Cindy’s friends and mother on the stand.
Jan Lippert, Cindy's mom: I walked into their bedroom and she was in bed (starts to cry) and she was curled up in a fetal position and then she was clinging on to one of Todd’s shirts and she was just sobbing uncontrollably.
Udell's plan was to make Cindy more sympathetic to the jury, to show how broken up she was after Todd died. Instead, it turned out to be a gift for the prosecution.
By introducing evidence about how Cindy was a grieving widow, Prosecutor Laura Gunn was allowed to rebut that testimony with stories about Cindy’s wild behavior after Todd’s death.
As the weeks passed, Cindy entered both a thong contest and a wet t-shirt contest at a bar in Tijuana, Mexico, showing off her newly enhanced chest.
Laura Gunn: This is not somebody who's grieving. This is somebody who's celebrating. This is somebody whose actions tell the real story.
Her behavior did not sit well with Todd’s mother, who says she tried to communicate this to Cindy.
Yvonne Sommer, Todd’s mother: And she told me to mind my own business, that she would grieve her way and I could grieve my way.
Cindy's way of grieving apparently also included having brief sexual relationships with a number of different guys, many of them young Marines. Some of them had even served with her dead husband.
Prosecutor: Did you know a person named Sgt. Todd Sommer?Christopher Reed: Yes I did. He was my first in charge … He was a sergeant.Prosecutor: Did you ever have sex with the defendant?Reed: Yes.
Laura Gunn: Active duty Marine?Aaron Strang: Yes, ma'am.Laura Gunn: Did you have sex with her?Aaron Strang: Yes, ma'am.
Laura Gunn: What else shows her true colors? Four sexual partners just in the first two months after Todd died.
Cindy's relationship with her new Marine boyfriend also became part of the evidence against her, because of an email she sent him that read, "I couldn't see five years in the future with him [meaning Todd]. I see fifty with you.”
Rick Rendone, NCIS: Cindy is -- who looks for those levers that she can exploit in people who maybe have weaker personality that she's surrounded herself with.Josh Mankiewicz: You're describing someone who's a user of other people.Rick Rendone: Yes, and a liar. I think selfish is probably the best word.
But did all that damaging testimony really add up to murder? When investigators searched the Sommer home, they never found anything like a "smoking gun."
Josh Mankiewicz: Where'd she buy the arsenic?Rob Terwilliger, NCIS: We don't know.Josh Mankiewicz: How much did she use?Rob Terwilliger: Again, we don't know.Josh Mankiewicz: So you're never able to put arsenic in her hands?Rob Terwilliger: No.Rick Rendone: No.
Jurors were learning a lot of unsavory details about Cindy Sommer, but her high-powered lawyer still had a card to play. Jurors were about to hear Cindy’s side of the story in her own words. But would her testimony set her free?
It was finally time for Cindy Sommer’s defense, time for her lawyer to show that she was the real victim in losing her beloved husband Todd at such a young age.
(Defense opening statements)Udell: This was her knight in shining armor. She could not have asked for the more perfect man, a military man, God-fearing, and he says to her “Cindy, I want to marry you -- three kids and all.”
Attorney Bob Udell had the daunting task of getting this jury to see past Cindy’s chest.
He decided to let them hear from Cindy herself, hoping they'd see her as he did -- a woman who was clearly innocent and missing her husband and best friend.
On the stand Cindy recalled seeing Todd for the last time as his body was taken away in a gurney.
Cindy Sommer: I told him that I loved him and I hugged him and I took his wedding ring off.
This was true love, Udell argued. There's no way she would ever have killed this man, and certainly not for a new pair of breasts.
Cindy Sommer: I loved him. He was great. We had a lot of fun together. We clicked.
In fact, Udell said, Todd had known about Cindy’s plan to get breast implants and he'd supported it. As proof, Cindy read from a Valentine's Day card that Todd gave her shortly before his death.
Cindy Sommer (reading): "Happy Valentine's Day, princess. My life is so happy with you in it. I couldn't imagine things any other way. Maybe for next Valentine's you can get yourself a set of boobies. Thank you, or thanks for making me better last week. Love you forever, Todd."
Cindy also says that she had trouble sleeping after her husband's death and saw a doctor.
Cindy Sommer: I told them my husband had died and that I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. I just really couldn't function.
And what about the way Todd died? Udell told jurors there was absolutely no evidence connecting Cindy with the deadly poison prosecutors claim killed her husband.
To hammer home the lack of physical evidence, Udell brought in the one of the country's top experts on arsenic poisoning, toxicologist Alphonse Poklis. He believed that the state's theory was dead wrong. In his opinion, Todd Sommer didn't die from arsenic.
Poklis: I've come to understand that after that visit to the hospital Tuesday, he went to work Wednesday, he went to work Thursday, he went to work Friday, that he was to some amusement park on Saturday, and then he suddenly died Saturday night. It makes absolutely no sense that that's acute arsenic.
Furthermore, Poklis questioned test results showing high levels of arsenic only in some of Todd’s body tissue. The expert testified that the poison isn't selective. If arsenic had indeed been a factor in Todd’s death, high levels of it should have been spread through his entire body.
Bob Udell: Did it concern you as to whether or not Sgt. Sommer had been poisoned with arsenic?Alphonse Poklis: It concerned me whether he was poisoned, it concerned me what in the world was going on and who did this test.
That test was at the heart of the prosecution case, and Udell argued that not only was the test wrong, but that there was no evidence that Cindy had ever bought arsenic, researched it on the internet, or knew where to get it.
Investigators had searched her home, finding nothing. And by the time Cindy was arrested, she had long since gotten rid of the computer she owned back when Todd died.
And the defense also brushed aside the state's theory of a money motive. Udell pointed out that Cindy was better off financially with Todd alive.
Bob Udell: The evidence will show that six months after Todd’s death, she gets kicked out of the base. She no longer has that free housing. She no longer gets these $1,800 dollars a month in income. She loses the medical benefits. If the motive for killing Todd was money, this cost her significantly.
Cindy's fate was now in the hands of the jury. Would these 12 citizens view Cindy Sommer as a loyal wife, "always faithful," like the Marine motto “Semper Fidelis” tattooed on her arm?
Or would her behavior after Todd’s death condemn her?
Jurors sat down with us after the verdict and told me they weren't concerned about Cindy’s sex life, but did have reservations about that emotional 911 call.
(911 call)Cindy Sommer: Don't do this to me. What am I going to do without you?Josh Mankiewicz: You thought she was play acting?Wendy Alton: Yes, they asked her if she knew CPR. She said yes, and then in her testimony it came out that she had learned about it in the middle school. It just kind of made me question like “Well, if you learned about it in middle school and the love of your life is on the floor, would you really know how to do CPR?”
The jury weighed the evidence for almost three days, and ultimately they focused on the arsenic theory, that arsenic caused Todd’s death and that Cindy profited from it.
Linda Goday: We just started subtracting things to determine who could have done this. And she was the only logical person left.
(Judge Deddah reads verdict)We the jury in the above entitled cause find the defendant Cynthia A. Sommer guilty of the crime of murder of Todd Sommer.
Facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, Cindy Sommer looked shell-shocked. She almost had no time to react before the jury left the room.
On the other side was satisfaction.
(Laura Gunn press conference)"I’m so glad that Todd Sommer’s family has justice finally for the death of their son.”
Bob Udell took the verdict personally, blaming himself for errors in judgment and trial strategy.
Udell believes the jurors ignored the facts, and instead condemned Cindy for her behavior.
Bob Udell: Breast implants. Parties. Sex. Must be guilty.Josh Mankiewicz: The jurors say that isn't what influenced them.Bob Udell: I understand that's what the jury's saying.Josh Mankiewicz: They said that to me. They've said that to other people.Bob Udell: I understand that.Josh Mankiewicz: You don't believe it?Bob Udell: Don't believe it for a second.
In a jailhouse interview, Cindy told me that she felt her sex life definitely counted against her.
Cindy Sommer: Obviously now looking back on it, knowing that the country was going to see everything I did five years later, I probably would have used a little more discretion or not done some things.
But, she argued, if she'd really been a murderer, wouldn't she have done a more careful job of playing the grieving widow?
Cindy Sommer: I didn't kill my husband, so I wasn't doing things to hide anything. I wanted someone to hold me. I wanted my husband back. I missed him, and I didn't have him, and the closest thing that I could have were his friends.
But Cindy Sommer’s powers of persuasion were about to work for her again. The woman with three kids who'd won over a younger man, the client who'd convinced a veteran lawyer that she was the most innocent defendant he'd ever met, was about to sign up another forceful man as her latest champion.
San Diego attorney Allen Bloom told Cindy not to give up, promising an unorthodox strategy that would set her free.
Cindy was about to tell me things she never had a chance to tell the jury...and this case was about to take another stunning turn.
Notorious as "the woman who killed her husband for breast implants," Cindy Sommer faced life in prison without the possibility of parole. When a prominent San Diego lawyer offered her a life-line, she grabbed it.
Her only chance, said her new attorney Allen Bloom, was to ask for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. In other words, Cindy's first defense attorney, Bob Udell, failed her -- mostly by opening the door to that damaging testimony about her sex life. And at the risk of severely damaging his own professional reputation, Bob Udell agreed, testifying at a special hearing and falling on his sword.
Laura Gunn: Mr. Bloom has characterized you as feeling terrible about this verdict. Is that accurate?Bob Udell: I lost a dead-bang winner.
Prosecutor Laura Gunn argued that Udell's performance wasn't bad enough to overrule the jury.
Laura Gunn: Mr. Udell wasn't Allen Bloom, but he was fine, he did the job within the bar, within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. She was convicted because Todd Sommer’s tissue was filled with arsenic, she had a giant financial motive, and she wanted out.
And now it was up to Judge Peter Deddah. Cindy's family and friends waited anxiously, and then, finally, the ruling came.
Judge Deddeh: Mr. Udell has an approach to this case that was focused. In being so focused, he missed many areas that would have been fruitful for his defense and in missing those areas I believe that he has been ineffective … Based on that, I’m going to, I am going to order that Ms. Sommer be allowed to have a new trial.
(Jailhouse interview)Josh Mankiewicz: How are you?Cindy Sommer: Uh, a lot better now.
I sat down with Cindy in jail shortly after the judge's ruling. She was waiting for a new trial, and was eager to talk about Todd.
Josh Mankiewicz: What’s it like to find a guy who not only loves you, but wants to take over being a father to three kids who are not his?Cindy Sommer: That was something that I wasn't expecting and it was a great feeling. It was something that I don't think you find every day. It's not something that um you expect to find, that you go looking for. And I found that and we had a great marriage, we had a great relationship, and we had a great family. And it worked...
She feels it's ridiculous that anyone could think she would have harmed Todd.
Cindy Sommer: It's amazing to me that anybody that knows me that would think that I would ever do something like that to someone else.
It was the testimony about the plastic surgery, she says, that hurt the most.
Josh Mankiewicz: If you'd gotten a nose job, instead of breast implants...Cindy Sommer: I wouldn't be here. Josh Mankiewicz: You wouldn't be here?Cindy Sommer: No.
But what of the inquiries about money in the first few hours after her husband's death? Cindy says she was panicked, suddenly facing life as a single mom.
Cindy Sommer: I went into just an auto-pilot mode, thinking “What am I going to do my life?” Went from having everything I wanted, everything I ever dreamed of having, to having it all gone. I didn't know how I was going to have four children, what I was going to do.
After Todd’s death, she told herself he was still alive.
Cindy Sommer: I tried to put it in my head as though he was on a deployment, that he would be back, and that is how I dealt with that.Josh Mankiewicz: Do you think there are people who will always believe you are guilty?Cindy Sommer: Oh, yeah. I think there are people who won't look at science. I think that science can 100 percent prove that my husband didn't' die of arsenic poisoning, which I’m sure that it’s going to, I’m sure that people will say “Oh, that’s crap, we still think she did it because she wanted implants and she wanted to party.”
When we spoke, Cindy Sommer was smiling from behind bars, convinced that this huge lesson in how everything can go wrong would one day be over.
Josh Mankiewicz: This has got to be like a bad dream. Cindy Sommer: Yes. (pause) Yes, it is.Josh Mankiewicz: You think you're going to get out of it? Cindy Sommer: I know I will.
She was right. But it happened sooner than she thought.
Just last week, prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against Cindy Sommer. She was released from jail, a free woman again, after more than two years and four months.
(Press conference)Cindy Sommer: I’m still in shock. I really cannot believe I’m standing outside the jail right now.
San Diego County D.A. Bonnie Dumanis announced that in preparing for the new trial, prosecutors consulted independent toxicologists, who were puzzled by the original lab results. Investigators went back to the hospital and found more of Todd Sommer’s tissue samples that hadn't been tested. They sent them out for analysis.
The results showed there was no arsenic in those tissues. One of the toxicologists reported that he could not say to a "reasonable medical certainty" that Todd Sommer died of arsenic poisoning. And so, the case that convicted a widow and mother of four of murder may have been based on a faulty lab test.
Bonnie Dumanis: Our case was premised on the case that Todd Sommer was poisoned by arsenic. And when the information came forward from experts that are renowned that said they can't tell us with medical certainty that he was, in fact, poisoned by arsenic, at that point we stop. That is the bottom line. We now have a concern, we now reasonable doubt, we now have a duty to dismiss the case.
In the end, Bob Udell couldn't have been more right. Allen bloom couldn't have been more vital and prosecutors couldn't have been more wrong.
Josh Mankiewicz: Nice to see you without glass between us...
This week, I sat down with Cindy again. She told me she always had faith she would one day be released.
Cindy Sommer: I knew that eventually -- one way or another, that I would be free. I just hoped that it wouldn't take a long time.Josh Mankiewicz: And you never lost hope?Cindy Sommer: Nope. Nope. When your innocent, you don't. You can't lose hope, and you can't-you can't stop fighting.
She shed tears on the stand, but never raised her voice -- no matter how outrageous the accusations might have seemed.
And if her lack of outrage then is surprising, so is the tone she takes now. It’s less angry than philosophical.
Cindy Sommer: It's been difficult. It's been a hard road. And, you know, I just-like, I’ve just tried to keep my spirits up. I've tried to make things as good as I can make them.
The happy bride, the convicted murderer, and now, finally, the innocent widow. Cindy Sommer has been all of those, in that order.
And now she says she wants to be something else: the advocate for those wrongly imprisoned. And when she says that, you can hear a little of the anger leak out -- directed at San Diego prosecutors who looked at a lab test and forever changed Cindy’s life.
Cindy Sommer: My life was ruined. I had to start over. I know hers isn't. I know she--Josh Mankiewicz: The D.A.?Cindy Sommer: Yeah. Yeah. I know the D.A. went home every night. I know that she didn't lose anything. I know I did.
Cindy Sommer says she plans to move back to California for the time being. She hopes to be reunited with her four children.