Arbitration ends Somerville death suit - The Daily Progress: News

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Arbitration ends Somerville death suit

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Posted: Saturday, September 11, 2010 12:40 am | Updated: 4:54 pm, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

ORANGE — Today, for the first time in almost a decade, Hamilton A. “Ham” Somerville Jr.’s daughters will walk on the family farm, Mount Athos. They expect to cry, they said, and pray.

The farm, along with $900,000, was awarded to them in binding arbitration that ended their wrongful death suit against Somerville’s widow, who had been acquitted in 2004 of charges that she poisoned him.

“… [It] is my opinion by preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant is liable and that the plaintiff is entitled to recover in the pending suit,” wrote retired Judge Robert L. Harris Sr.

That statement, Somerville’s three daughters said, was a huge victory in itself.

“I want everyone to know that he was vindicated, and especially for his friends,” Sara Somerville said.

Somerville also adopted his wife’s daughter. She benefited separately from the settlement and has stood by her mother. Her attorney, Francis Lawrence, declined comment Friday.

“It was settlement of a hotly disputed matter and, like all settlements, it probably was the best thing for all sides at the end of six years of hotly contested litigation,” said Donna Somerville’s attorney, William J. Pfund, after a judge signed off on the settlement Friday.

He declined further comment after the hearing.

The defense had argued at the criminal trial that Ham Somerville might have taken the drugs that killed him — oxycodone, morphine and codeine — on his own.

That argument hinged on forensic tests of his hair that showed he had been exposed to drugs for up to six months before he died. At trial, the prosecution argued Donna Somerville had been slowly dosing him. In the civil suit, the daughters’ attorneys took the position that the test was compromised because Ham Somerville vomited during CPR attempts, and some of his stomach contents wound up in his hair.

The fact that no medicine packaging was found at Somerville’s home also argued against self-medication, the daughters’ attorney said Friday.

At the criminal trial, the prosecutor argued that the wife was trying to cover up affairs and gained financially from her husband’s death.

Keith C. Cuthrell, one of the daughters’ attorneys, said that the different standard for a wrongful death suit was crucial to his side’s victory. In such a civil suit, the standard is “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“That by itself was enough to make the difference in this case,” he said.

At the time of his death, Somerville’s estate was valued at at least $5.6 million. It’s not clear how much of that went to his widow because of confidentiality agreements protecting some parts of the settlement.

“I am relieved that this is finally over,” daughter Alita Miller said. “I’m happy that we finally have gotten justice for my dad.”

But the daughters said that, while they’re glad to have the family estate, the money and the judge’s statement, nothing will bring their father back.

“The only thing that would be enough would be my dad sitting in this room,” Sara Somerville said.

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