Arsenic-laced organs to be examined to determine if they belong to Marine

By: KELLY WHEELER - North County Times wire services

SAN DIEGO - A woman convicted of poisoning her husband agreed Friday to send arsenic-laced organs to a laboratory to determine if they actually belong to the dead Marine.

Cynthia Sommer, 33, was convicted Jan. 30 of first-degree murder, murder by poison and murder for financial gain in the Feb. 18, 2002, death of Sgt. Todd Sommer, who has based at Miramar. He was 23 when he died.

Defense attorney Allen Bloom, who was not Sommer's attorney at trial, has filed a motion for a new trial, claiming lab results in the case contain "holes" which call into question whether the decedent actually died from arsenic poisoning.

Bloom said he wasn't sure why DNA testing wasn't done to confirm the poisoned tissues belonged to Todd Sommer.

Both sides said today that if they can agree on a lab, test results would be available no sooner than 60 days from receipt.

Judge Peter Deddeh scheduled an Aug. 21 status conference to check on the progress of the testing.

Bloom said he would consider a recommendation from Deputy District Attorney Laura Gunn that only the liver, kidney, brain, muscle and blood tissues be sent to the lab for DNA analysis.

Todd Sommer's death was originally thought to be from natural causes, centering on a fluttering heart. But a test in 2003 for heavy metals revealed arsenic levels more 1,000 times the normal level in his liver and 250 times above normal in his kidneys.

Bloom said earlier that even if Todd Sommer died of arsenic poisoning, the link to the defendant is "zero."

Prosecutors theorized that the defendant killed her husband -- possibly by giving him ant poison -- so she could collect his $250,000 military life insurance payout.

Weeks after her husband's death, Sommer paid $5,400 for breast implants, had sex with three male Marines and a woman, hosted loud parties at her home and participated in a wet T-shirt contest and thong contest in Tijuana, Gunn said.

Bloom said today he is still investigating whether to pursue a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel against Sommer's trial attorney Robert Udell, who is based in Florida.

Right now, Udell is still on the case, working with Bloom on other issues involving the new trial motion, Bloom told the judge.

If it turns out the ineffective assistance of counsel claim is pursued, Udell would have to be removed from the case, Bloom said.

Bloom said Udell was providing "valuable help" on the post-conviction issues and may have had "too much passion" for the case as it moved through trial.

Deddeh said other issues needed to be resolved before he could set a hearing date for a new trial motion and possible sentencing. CNS-06-15-2007 15:43