Extradition Sought in Man’s Death

Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Prosecutors are seeking the extradition of a woman in Florida accused of poisoning her husband -- a Marine sergeant -- and then using his life insurance to pay for breast enhancement and a libertine lifestyle.

Cynthia Sommer, 32, moved to Florida from San Diego in 2002 with a new boyfriend, an ex-Marine, just weeks after an autopsy performed by a military pathologist found that her husband had died of a heart attack.

Further toxicology tests determined that Sgt. Todd Sommer, 23, had died of acute arsenic poisoning. The tests were ordered by the military and confirmed by civilian experts.


Todd Sommer was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar when he died Feb. 18, 2002, after complaining of nausea for several days.

His widow was arrested in Palm Beach County, Fla., in late November 2005, shortly after new tests and an additional investigation were completed.

“This is the coldest homicide I’ve had, in terms of being absolutely coldblooded,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Gunn said.

Sommer, being held in a West Palm Beach jail, is resisting the extradition attempt. A hearing is set for today.

San Diego prosecutors have filed for special circumstances -- murder by poisoning -- which could lead to the death penalty, if Sommer is convicted.

Court documents filed by prosecutors allege that Sommer was eager to get her husband’s life insurance of more than $250,000 and the monthly survivor payments of nearly $1,900. The couple had a son and she had three other children from a previous marriage.


In an interview conducted by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, Sommer said her husband had been nauseated and vomiting for a week before his death. Sommer’s “close proximity to the victim allowed for the type of access required to facilitate acute arsenic poisoning,” an investigator wrote.

Sommer’s neighbor on the Miramar base told the investigators that after Todd Sommer’s death, his wife threw a series of loud parties and showed the results of her breast augmentation, which had cost $5,400.

“Cindy’s excuse for the lifestyle she started living after [her husband’s death] was that he was very strict. He didn’t like for her to go out partying [or] staying out with her friends,” a family friend told investigators.

“Todd also didn’t want her to get her breasts enlarged, so I think that she was living out the fantasy life that she really wanted,” the friend said, according to court documents.

Sommer also paid to have her name listed on an Internet service that provides an “adult dating community focused on sexual discovery.”

Court documents portray Sommer as a dissatisfied employee of a sandwich shop, heavily in debt and unhappy with having to care for four children. Before moving to San Diego, she was investigated by child welfare workers in North Carolina in 2001.


After her breast surgery, Sommer began a relationship with another Marine, Ross Ritter, who was later discharged from the Marine Corps. Sommer had her furniture shipped to his home in Florida at government expense, court records show.

The same day that she was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder, Ritter was taken into custody on an unrelated drug charge.

There does not appear to be a connection between Ritter and Todd Sommer’s death, and no further indictments are expected in the case, Gunn said.