Cynthia Sommer

Convicted of a crime that never happened based on false forensic findings and gender-biased evidence

When Todd Sommer, a 23-year-old Marine sergeant, died in San Diego in 2002, the medical examiner attributed his death to cardiac arrhythmia. A year later, however, military forensic investigators reported finding extremely high levels of arsenic in his liver and kidneys—although not in other body tissues. On the theory that his wife, Cynthia, had poisoned him, she was charged with murder.

At her 2007 trial, in addition to the dubious forensic findings, the prosecution introduced inflammatory evidence that Cynthia had obtained breast augmentation, entered a wet T-shirt contest, and engaged in sex with several men after Todd’s death. A defense forensic toxicologist testified that, if Todd had been poisoned, high levels of arsenic would have been detected throughout his body, but Cynthia was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Ten months later she won a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2008, after new testing detected no arsenic in previously untested samples of Todd's liver and kidney tissues, the charges were dismissed.

— Rob Warden