by Deborah Hastings AP national Writer published online Thursday Feb 26th, 2004 and also in print concern #0308 dated Thursday Feb 26th, 2004


In the mannered culture governing flowing valleys and tree-covered hills that Orange County, unit volume such as "blood tells"" and "pretty is together pretty does"" resonate. Gentility is paramount. Reproduction is preferred.

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There are specific things just not done in this part of the South.

One walk not call attention to oneself with usual behavior. If bourbon has been consumed, allowances are made. While sit at table v one"s husband, one does no rub the thigh of another man in ~ the table. And one most absolutely does not fatally poison said husband and then bespeak his human body cremated on the very same night.

Donna J. Somerville, 51, widow that Hamilton A. Somerville Jr., who was born top top this fertile land back-dropped by the Blue Ridge Mountains, is accused of doing all these unseemly things.

Her killing trial is booked for June. Despite Hamilton Somerville– "Ham"" to his friends– has been dead for more than two years, his life is fine remembered. His widow is fine disdained.

And so the killing of Ham Somerville is double offensive. Not just was that killed, allegedly because that his money, yet his wife"s behavior, beginning around a year before Somerville"s death, has actually been considered appalling, cheap, and just no right.

Free ~ above $300,000 bail, Donna lives at mountain Athos, a 450-acre hilltop farm yard once part of chairman James Madison"s Montpelier estate, about 20 mile northeast of Charlottesville.

Donna says small or naught to she husband"s family and his legion the friends. A "No Trespassing" sign has actually been staked in the red Virginia soil at the enntrance gate to mountain Athos, just behind stone pillars in prior of a winding driveway.

Her silence might be understandable. According to court documents, some of the evidence used by a special grand jury come indict Donna Somerville come out the her very own mouth.

A church separated

A media beast feeds steadily on Ham Somerville"s death. Donna has become, on glossy magazine pages, "the black color widow," a brazen gold-digger that seduced a grieving widower right into a quickie marriage and also eventually grew exhausted of him.

A much-published news picture from last year mirrors her shackled and also dressed in a prison fit of wide black and white stripes, standing outside the tiny circuit court in Orange.

Hamilton Somerville, in the same shiny magazine, came to be a squire, a gentleman farmer, a millionaire, and a recovering alcoholic killed in his very own bed at period 57 in his mansion ~ above a hill.

But the simple, person truth, as black-and-white together his widow"s weeds, is that a tenderness and crucial man with grown daughters, that loved his church as much as he used to love liquor, is dead.

And all due to the fact that he ingested big amounts of the medicine morphine, codeine, and also oxycodone, according to the coroner"s report.

In the community and at Christ Episcopal Church in Gordonsville, whereby the Somervilles worshipped, human being who knew them continue to suffer. Neighbor has actually turned against neighbor; worshippers have stopped speak to every other.

"No one deserve to talk around it,"" says parishioner Dorsey Comer. "It"s damaged our church up. Anyone is just silently grieving.""

Those chasms, part say, can not be connected until Donna Somerville is judged in court.

Ham"s new wife

Part of the murder"s intrigue is steeped in the floor itself; mount Athos has a specific kind of history revered by Virginians.

It when belonged to Montpelier, the household plantation the the 4th president the the unified States. Initially covering more than 4,000 acres, Montpelier adjusted hands several times before its last exclusive owner, Marion duPont Scott, bequeathed it to the national Trust for historic Preservation in 1983.

She was briefly married come Ham Somerville"s uncle Thomas. In the divorce settlement, he gained Mount Athos, which later on was given to Hamilton Somerville Sr., Ham"s father, as a wedding present.

The duPonts and also the Somervilles continue to be entwined through blood and also land, like countless families here whose descendants pride themselves on roots extending 400 years.

Conduct here is listed and judged– specifically the conduct of outsiders.

It was hard not to an alert the come of registered nurse Donna Scott in the summer the 1990. She was a Yankee, because that one thing, and also no one appeared to know her in the tight-knit enclave that Somerset, wherein two-lane roadways ramble previous fenced horse farms with gorgeous homes set a mile back.

Ham Somerville hired her from a local hospice to treatment for his first wife, Sidney, that was dying of breast cancer.

Donna Scott, 39, often tended Sidney Somerville at mount Athos. Her duties contained administering morphine to lull Sidney"s pain. When Sidney passed away three months later, Ham rental Donna to care for his mother, Henrietta, who was likewise dying the cancer.

Henrietta passed away four months later. Seven months after ~ that, Ham married Donna in a civil ceremony– her 4th trip under the aisle.

There were, of course, whispers and also gossip. Sidney had been dead for much less than a year.

But Donna, Ham"s friends thought, appeared to be a good influence ~ above her new husband. She convinced him to quit drinking. They became pillars of Christ Church. Both to be members the the vestry. He was church treasurer; she to be the Sunday school superintendent and sometimes offered communion. They to be inseparable.

"When you observed one, you experienced the other,"" states Tony Garnett, a neighborhood farm worker.

If lock weren"t in church or working the farm, they were lunching at the picnic table within the Somerset facility Store at what passes for an intersection here. Native the wooden porch, you deserve to see mount Athos on a snow-covered rise, flanked through leafless trees of winter.

Every morning started the very same for Ham. He wake up early and sat on the porch drinking coffee and smoking, Garnett said.

He fed and also tended 50 head of black Angus cattle, then gained in his Suburban and also headed come the Somerset save for a coffee refill. There, he"d hook up through Garnett, who father had functioned at Montpelier for practically 60 years and knew Ham"s father.

Garnett was a boy when he first met Ham, who was nearly twenty years older. End the years, they became close.

"People claimed I was the boy he never had,"" Garnett says.

About a year prior to Ham"s death, Tony Garnett grew increasingly appalled. He taken into consideration driving increase there and also just telling Ham come his face. However he couldn"t.

"He to be my friend,"" Garnett said.

Garnett had watched Donna caressing the leg of one more man, under the picnic table, as she, Ham and also others ate lunch, the said. So had actually Garnett"s girlfriend, buy it Rogers, who works in ~ the store.

"We didn"t understand what to do,"" she said. "We couldn"t think it.""

They additionally watched she park her vehicle in the small lot outside, then obtain into the cars of other men, slouching under as castle drove away, both said.

If Donna was having affairs, why be so blatant? there are nearby cities such together Charlottesville, wherein cheating wives have actually a far better chance of walking unnoticed.

"It was favor she just didn"t care,"" Rogers said.

Soon, Somerset was buzzing. Yet Ham never said a word come his friend.

"All of a sudden, they weren"t with each other all the time,"" Garnett says. "You could tell something to be bothering him, yet he wouldn"t to speak nothing.""

How Ham passed away

On the critical night the his life, Ham Somerville said he didn"t feel well and also went come bed early. Donna brought him soup, she later on told deputies.

He hadn"t felt fine for an ext than a month. He was unnaturally exhausted, he told friends; some days he could barely get out that bed.

One day, top top the farm with Garnett, Ham wonder if he"d had actually a hit in his sleep. "He was really tired,"" Garnett says. "He claimed he felt choose he"d been drugged.""

But that didn"t view a doctor. "Donna said she confirm his blood pressure and also it was fine,"" Rogers says.

At Sunday church, after a vestry meeting, Ham chatted with Dorsey Comer, who"d known him for 18 years.

"I asked just how he was,"" Comer recounts. "He said, `Dorsey, friend know, I"m no feeling really well. I"m simply so tired and I don"t understand why.""

Two days later, Donna dubbed 911. She husband had stopped breathing, she said.

The procession that sheriff"s cars and also rescue squad trucks snaking up the mount Athos driveway lit increase the hill. Down at the Somerset store, human being stared.

Garnett and also Rogers drove to the house and pulled about to the back. Jeff Carpenter, a farm yard hand temporarily life in the guest cottage, satellite outside.

Garnett asked what was going on. "The old guy done croaked," Carpenter replied. Donna remained in the home with authorities. So to be Lance Clore, another local male who"d been working, and also sometimes staying, at mount Athos.

Garnett sharp his car ago down the hill.

Except because that the funeral, "I never did go back up there,"" that said. "I knew deep in my heart that she had actually killed him, and I didn"t want to be roughly her.""

It took around 15 months because that investigators to announce they"d reached the very same conclusion. Top top Valentine"s work 2002, Donna Somerville to be indicted top top one count of first-degree murder.

She was sole heir to Ham"s $15 million estate. Usually trusts had already been created for his get an impressive daughters.

Phone messages left for Donna Somerville through the linked Press were no returned. Prosecutors, investigators, and Donna Somerville"s attorneys declined comment on the criminal case. Therefore did lawyers representing the estate and his daughters, who have actually filed a wrongful fatality suit versus Donna Somerville.

Orange ar sheriff"s deputies, aided by a state police investigator, interviewed an ext than 80 people associated to Ham and also Donna. Follow to court documents, much of the state"s evidence comes from the sworn declaration of deputies who responded to Donna"s 911 call and from wiretaps put on telephones belonging come Donna and Lance Clore.

Sgt. James Fenwick claims that when he came down on Mount Athos, he adhered to Donna"s voice to the second-floor bedroom. Ham to be on the bed, quiet alive.

Donna called Fenwick she make the efforts to carry out CPR yet "was unable to execute anything due to the fact that of her husband"s physical size.""

After offer Ham"s dinner, Donna said, she"d gone downstairs. Once she returned, he was "blue in the face.""

Paramedics functioned for 45 minutes, administering CPR and also inserting an intubation tube. Deputy Shane Nelson stated Donna "pleaded several times because that the rescue workers to stop,"" saying she father "had gone through this and they didn"t save him.""

Nelson and Fenwick claimed Donna insisted she wanted her husband cremated that night, saying it to be what Ham wanted. However Virginia law prohibits cremation till a death certificate is issued.

At the urging the one Somerville daughter, the Commonwealth"s attorney ordered one autopsy. The results: fatality by drug poisoning.

The examination

A item of carpet was cut from the bedroom floor whereby Ham had vomited in prior of deputies. That tested confident for morphine, codeine, and also oxycodone, according to the state forensic lab.

Also seized from the property, follow to court documents, were cocaine; marijuana; prescription painkillers; Klonopin, a sedating drug usually prescribed for anxiety disorders; herpes suppression medication; and a snippet that plastic straw comprise cocaine residue. The warrants perform not clues whether every one of the items came from the large house, or whether some came indigenous the guest cottage.

Months later, authorities fee Carpenter through felony possession of cocaine. The is now provided as a product witness in the murder case.

As the days tick by bring about Donna Somerville"s murder trial, a sembeant of normality has actually returned here. Life in the Somerset keep goes on, though Donna does not come in anymore.

"For awhile, nobody trusted anybody,"" Rogers says. "It"s disrupted everything. It"s just a small country town.""

Donna no much longer attends Christ Church, whereby some worshippers balked at acquisition communion alcohol from the hands of a woman suspected that killing her husband, Comer said.

She still shops at Faulconer"s hardware over in Orange, where human being know her and also what she is accused of doing, and also don"t speak a word come her around it.

"She"s innocent till proven guilty,"" says Conway Faulconer, that helps run the household store. "These are human being with lives we"re talk about.""

There are particular things simply not excellent here. Abandoning civility is one of them.



The Orange county Courthouse will certainly be the site of Donna Somerville"s June trial.

"It"s damaged our church up," says parishioner Dorsey Comer that Christ Episcopal Church. "Everyone is simply silently grieving.""

Donna Somerville, cost-free on bail, still lives at Mt. Athos.

amid lush equine farms, the facility Store is what passes because that "downtown" Somerset.

Donna Somerville at her indictment on an initial degree murder charges critical year. AP paper PHOTO/THE everyday PROGRESS/ANDREW SHURTLEFF



An Orange county deputy states Donna "pleaded several times because that the rescue employees to stop"" and climate insisted she husband be cremated the night– however Virginia law prohibits cremation till a death certificate is issued.

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Friends say they watched Donna caressing the foot of an additional man, under a table in ~ the Somerset center Store, as she, Ham, and also others ate lunch.