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Hospice of the Rapidan
DailyProgress.com | Wife denies charge in taped calls
Somerville seemed unkempt prior to deathORANGE - Donna Somerville told two friends in phone conversations around the one-year anniversary of her husband's death that she did not kill him, secretly taped phone calls revealed Wednesday. Donna Somerville, 51, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in Hamilton A. Somerville Jr.'s death, which has been deemed the result of "combined drug poisoning." The taped home and cell phone conversations played in court Wednesday occurred between Oct. 24 and Oct. 30, 2002, as subpoenas for a special grand jury in the case were being distributed. In an Oct. 28, 2002, call with dancing partner Daniel Hager, Donna Somerville said investigators had no evidence linking her to the killing. As the heir to her husband's estate, Donna Somerville inherited the sprawling Mount Athos property and about $5.6 million in assets. In an Oct. 24 call, Donna advised a friend who had been subpoenaed by the special grand jury to get an attorney. "I didn't do this," she told Shannon Clore Abbs."We're back to square one. … The girls are never going to quit." Donna Somerville was referring to one of Hamilton Somerville's daughters, and did so again in a later conversation, calling Alita Somerville Miller the girl who "started this mess."Prosecutors say Donna Somerville had access to the drugs found in her husband's body through her work as a volunteer nurse for Hospice of the Rapidan.Defense attorneys assert that he either died from heart disease, suicide or a self-administered overdose.They plan to introduce evidence that he was taking oxycodone, codeine and morphine four to six months before his death. Officials originally thought the 57-year-old heavy smoker died in November 2001 of accidental choking but a toxicology report showed lethal doses of oxycodone, codeine and morphine.Donna Somerville was indicted on Valentine's Day 2003. A local auctioneer testified Wednesday that he got a call from Donna Somerville on Oct. 31, 2001, asking about an estate sale at Mount Athos to be held after the first of the year.She wanted to sell cattle, jewelry, antiques and a coin collection and didn't want to publicize the sale, David Nicholson testified. Circuit Judge Daniel R. Bouton did not allow his testimony, however, because prosecutors could not prove Donna Somerville was actually the caller.
Snapped : Profiles
Donna Somerville: Former hospice nurse Donna Somerville had finally arrived.After three failed marriages, she fell in love with Hamilton Somerville.Donna had nursed his mother and wife as they died, and when Ham needed a shoulder, she was there.They spent their days at Mt. Athos, his Virginia estate, enjoying the luxury that money brings.In 2001, just after their tenth wedding anniversary, Donna called 911.Ham had stopped breathing.Paramedics were unable to revive him.Donna wanted Ham cremated as quickly as possible, but her stepdaughters convinced the district attorney to perform an autopsy first.A blood test revealed a toxic mix of drugs in Ham's system.Suspicion immediately turned on wealthy widow Donna, who as a hospice nurse had access to those drugs.At trial, prosecutors claimed that Ham was about to divorce Donna and murder was the only way she could hold onto her husband's money.The judge ruled that the prosecutors had simply not presented enough evidence to prove Donna killed Ham.She was acquitted of all charges and returned to Mt. Athos a free woman.
Somerville trial under way
The long-anticipated murder trial of Donna Jean Somerville opened yesterday in the tiny, historic town of Orange.Donna Somerville, who is charged with first-degree murder, would have had access to narcotic drugs through her work as a nurse with Hospice of the Rapidan, he said.Problems in her marriage, and the danger that her many other romantic relationships would be discovered motivated Donna Somerville to kill, Robinette said.Somerville had the opportunity to commit the murder, he said, because she had been alone with her husband all day and her daughter was spending the night with friends. Defense attorney Samuel P. Higginbotham II told the court that much of what Robinette said was inaccurate, and that the special prosecutor had not said that Donna Somerville gave her husband drugs. The autopsy showed that there was not a sufficient quantity of drugs in Somerville's system to cause his death, Higginbotham said.Yesterday, the prosecution called 13 witnesses who testified that Ham and Donna Somerville spent that day at home, Ham was considering couples counseling and was not feeling well, Donna went to a nearby store and bought milk, and their youngest daughter asked to spend the night with a friend.Further testimony documented Donna Somerville's call to 911.The court day ended with testimony from sheriff's deputies and rescue squad personnel.Investigators immediately suspected foul play after Somerville's death, but Donna Somerville wasn't indicted until Valentine's Day 2003.Freed on $300,000 bond, she has continued to live at the couple's Mount Athos estate, once owned by James Madison's family.
TimesDispatch.com | Woman, acquitted of murder, feels void
Woman, acquitted of murder, feels void / Donna Somerville is free, but she faces civil suits and an uncertain futureTimesDispatch.com | Woman, acquitted of murder, feels voidDonna Somerville is free, but she faces civil suits and an uncertain futureDonna Somerville shuddered as her attorneys whisked her down a narrow hallway toward a waiting police cruiser.It wasn't until she was pushed inside her attorney's sport utility vehicle that she realized she was free."Just knowing I was going home, I kept thinking, 'It's over, it's over, it's over,'" she said.For the past year and a half, the possibility of a murder conviction and life sentence hung over Somerville's head.On June 29, it all ended, and the stress was released in soaking tears.In her first moments as a free woman, Somerville sobbed all the way to her sprawling Mount Athos estate, where the nightmare had begun 31 months earlier.In her first interview since her husband's death, Somerville explained her behavior on the night he died, called "strange and peculiar" by prosecutors, as well as her brief jailhouse experience and possible plans for the future.The 51-year-old registered nurse and former hospice volunteer was acquitted in Hamilton A. Somerville Jr.'s death after a judge found "reasonable doubt" that she dosed him with narcotics on Nov. 13, 2001, in their bedroom.During the nine-day trial, prosecutors painted Somerville as a greedy second wife who entertained paramours and filled her husband with prescription painkillers until he overdosed, because he was worth more to her dead than divorced.They said her work as a hospice volunteer gave her access to the oxycodone, morphine and codeine found in his body.Defense attorneys countered that their client was a caring wife who helplessly witnessed her husband's demise."I can still close my eyes and remember reading the words on the search warrant and seeing 'murder,'" she said.Officials originally thought Somerville died from accidental choking, but an autopsy showed heavy doses of opiates.Donna Somerville did not want an autopsy performed on her husband's body and asked that he be cremated the night he died.One of Hamilton Somerville's daughters intervened and asked for an autopsy.Donna Somerville said her husband, "an extremely Old Testament person," wished to be cremated and did not want an autopsy.When they attended funerals together, she said, they would discuss their wishes for arrangements after death."The ride home was, do this and don't do that, and I would do the same thing," she said, offering one piece of advice: "Put it in writing."A state pathologist called Somerville's death a "combined drug poisoning."Defense attorneys presented at trial hair analysis that showed Somerville had exposure to oxycodone and morphine for up to six months before he died.A defense-hired pathologist argued that an autopsy might not show evidence of a heart attack.With the 57-year-old heavy smoker's cardiac and lung disease, he said, he would have ruled the death heart failure had no toxicology report been made.Further, the expert argued, no one can determine Somerville died of an overdose because no one is sure of his tolerance level to the drugs.Donna Somerville said she did not know if her husband was taking drugs.She added that she wishes that she had forced him to go to the doctor in the days before his death, when his health was visibly declining.In conversation, she often refers to spirituality.She mostly speaks in a calm, hushed tone and takes a moment to reflect before carefully answering questions.
DailyProgress.com | Somerville's side of the story
Donna Somerville shuddered as her attorneys whisked her down a narrow hallway toward a waiting police cruiser. It wasn't until she was pushed inside her attorney's SUV that she realized she was free. "Just knowing I was going home, I kept thinking ‘it's over, it's over, it's over,'" she said. For the past year and a half the possibility of a murder conviction and life sentence hung over Somerville's head.On Tuesday it all ended, and the stress was released in the form of whopping, soaking tears. In the first moments of her life as a free woman, Somerville sobbed all the way to her sprawling Mount Athos estate, where the nightmare had begun 31 months earlier. "I think I'm still numb, still in shock," a subdued Somerville said late last week while sitting in a wrought iron chair on a patio at the breathtaking hilltop estate of Mount Athos."It's like being put in a glass bubble.You're not allowed to move, think, feel, be, and you're literally carried every step of the way." In her first interview since her husband's death, Somerville explained her behavior on the night her husband died, called strange by prosecutors, her brief jailhouse experience and possible plans for the future. The 51-year-old registered nurse and former hospice volunteer was cleared in Hamilton A. Somerville Jr.'s death after a judge found "reasonable doubt" that she dosed him with narcotics on Nov. 13, 2001, in their bedroom. During the nine-day trial, prosecutors painted Somerville as a greedy second wife who entertained paramours and filled her husband with prescription painkillers until he overdosed, because he was worth more to her dead than divorced.They said her work as a hospice volunteer gave her access to the oxycodone, morphine and codeine found in his body. Defense attorneys countered that their client was a caring wife who helplessly witnessed her husband's demise. "I can still close my eyes and remember reading the words on the search warrant and seeing ‘murder,'" she said."Then I knew I was in it.It was like a nightmare.It was surreal." While her attorneys precluded her from recounting some specifics about the night Somerville died, citing pending civil suits, Donna Somerville maintained that she performed CPR on her husband before the rescue squad arrived. "I took food out of his mouth," she said."I pulled food out of his throat." When rescue workers arrived and started resuscitations, she asked them to stop.She defends that request, saying both her brother and father were given CPR for hours and neither survived.She said the repetitive pounding on a body is "inhumane." "There's a certain time period that it's critical and it's important to do all you can to save a life but then there's a time that you just have to let the good Lord above take over and give up control," she said."That's all I was asking." Officials originally thought Somerville died from accidental choking but an autopsy revealed heavy doses of opiates. Somerville did not want an autopsy performed on her husband's body and asked that he be cremated the night he died.One of Hamilton Somerville's daughters intervened and asked for an autopsy.Donna said Hamilton Somerville, "an extremely Old Testament person," wished to be cremated and did not want an autopsy.Donna Somerville is sitting back in her chair, wearing a blue ankle-length dress under a tan button-up shirt with a small gold cross around her neck.In conversation, she often refers to spirituality.She mostly speaks in a calm, hushed tone and takes a moment to reflect on the past before carefully answering questions. Upon Hamilton Somerville's death, Donna inherited the entire 343-acre Mount Athos, once part of James Madison's Montpelier, and about $5.6 million in financial assets.
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