Military Widow Sues Navy Over Accusation

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – A military widow who spent more than two years in prison before being cleared of poisoning her Marine husband demands $20 million from San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, medical examiners, and Naval investigators. Cynthia Sommer says the officials caused her and her four young children incalculable grief and damage after her husband died of cardiac arrhythmia after getting food poisoning from an egg roll he bought at a convenience store.

     Todd Sommer died in 2002 a few days after being poisoned by the egg roll, his widow claims in Federal Court. She says her husband, 23, complained that his heart was “fluttering” the night he died.
     His cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia, which was later changed to homicide by arsenic. Cynthia received $250,000 from his life insurance policy.
     Shortly after her husband’s death, Sommer acknowledges, she got breast implants and partied with her husband’s Marine friends, sometimes getting romantically involved with them. Sommer says that “everyone deals with grief differently,” and that “she grieved in her own personal way.”
     Sommer say that in the two and one-half years following her husband’s death, officials from the Navy, the Army, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology “worked together to fabricate false and corrupt evidence to arrest and later convict Mrs. Sommer for the murder of her husband by arsenic poisoning.”
     They did so, she says, because they did not approve of her behavior as a grieving military widow and because they wanted to advance their careers.
     She claims that Rob Terwilliger, a special agent with the Navel Criminal Investigative Services and a defendant in the suit, called her a “party girl.”
     Sommer says the initial toxicology results showed no sign of arsenic poisoning, which would have caused severe organ damage.
     But Navy investigators didn’t agree with these results and sent tissue samples from her husband to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, where they tested positive for high levels of arsenic, the complaint states. (The U.S. Marines are a branch of the Navy.)
     Sommer says that at some point before or after the Institute took custody of the tissue, “the samples were negligently or intentionally contaminated.”
     The samples were sent to the environmental division of the lab for heavy metals testing, a division that is not qualified to test human tissue for arsenic, the complaint alleges. Sommer says the machine used to test the tissue had never been used before on human tissue.
     “The tissue samples went weeks without being accounted for between testing, and some portions of the samples disappeared altogether,” according to the complaint
     In April 2008, after spending more than 2 years in prison, Sommer says, she was released and the case was dropped when new samples surfaced that proved her innocence.
     Sommer seeks $20 million for civil rights abuse, plus attorney’s fees. She also wants Todd Sommer’s death certificate to list his cause of death as natural instead of homicide.
     She is represented by Robert Rosenthal of Monterey, and Stephan Barber of San Jose.

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