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Wife is convicted in Marine's death

Jurors find Cynthia Sommer, 33, guilty of using arsenic to poison her husband in their home at the Miramar base in 2002.

January 31, 2007|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A mother of four was convicted Tuesday of killing her Marine husband with arsenic to cash in on his $250,000 life insurance policy, some of which she used for breast implants and lavish parties.

Cynthia Sommer, 33, acted like a grieving widow immediately after her husband, Todd, 23, died in 2002, but within weeks she was holding loud parties, having sex with several men and dancing in a wet T-shirt contest in Tijuana, prosecutors and witnesses said during the monthlong trial.

Circumstantial evidence, including Sommer's spending spree and salacious behavior, helped convince jurors of her guilt despite the lack of direct proof, according to prosecutors.

A seven-woman, five-man jury convicted Sommer of first-degree murder along with the special circumstances of murder by poison and for financial gain. She is scheduled to be sentenced in March and could receive life in prison.

Defense attorney Robert Udell said Sommer had lost her "knight in shining armor" and now faces a potential life sentence because jurors appeared to believe that her behavior was inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

"Everybody grieves in different ways," he said.

Todd Sommer, a Florida native, was in good health when he collapsed in February 2002 at the foot of the couple's bed in their home on the Marine Corps' Miramar base in San Diego. The couple had married in 1999 and had a son together. Cynthia Sommer had three children from a previous relationship.

During a frantic 911 call played for jurors, Sommer said she tried to save her husband's life by giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The cause of death was listed as a heart attack on the original death certificate.

But investigators suspected foul play after a metals test of Todd Sommer's liver turned up a level of arsenic 1,020 times above normal. After a two-year probe, Cynthia was arrested in Florida in 2005 and extradited to San Diego.

During the trial, prosecutors suggested that the arsenic could have come from bait from ant traps, and that Cynthia Sommer was the only person who could have poisoned him. Without direct evidence, they tried to show that she had a strong motive.

In the hours after her husband's death, Sommer made repeated inquiries about the insurance money, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Gunn.

In the following weeks, she paid $5,400 for breast enhancement surgery, had casual sex with three men and a woman, and took part in a wet T-shirt and thong contest, according to Gunn and witness testimony.

Udell said that Sommer did not spend the insurance money recklessly.

He said she placed $147,000 in a trust account for her children, and she had the breast implants to make herself feel better during the grieving period.

Sommer -- who tattooed the dates of her husband's birth and death on her upper arm -- testified tearfully about how she hugged him when he died, removed his ring and slipped it on her thumb.

But Gunn said Sommer's behavior after his death amounted to a celebration. Sommer is now engaged to a former Marine she met two months after her husband's death.

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richard.marosi@latimes.com

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