Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, died last month during a hunting trip in West Texas.
Conspiracy theorists suggest Scalia’s assassination was ordered by President Barack Obama, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, the Clintons, the Bush family or perhaps Leonard Nimoy – “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock – who supposedly faked his own death in 2015.
Decisions made by Texas death investigators didn’t help.
Scalia was in fine fettle at dinner but went to bed early, saying he was tired and didn’t feel well. He didn’t respond to knocks on his locked door in the morning. When somebody checked later, Scalia was lying dead in bed, hands folded on top of unwrinkled sheets, with a pillow over his head.
Law enforcement responded to the remote ranch. A justice of the peace – more or less the equivalent of a coroner – was responsible for death pronouncement and certification.
When Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara was contacted by phone, police told her the circumstances surrounding Scalia’s death weren’t suspicious. Scalia’s doctor told Guevara that he had “chronic medical problems” and had been evaluated for a “shoulder problem” the week before. The Scalia family didn’t want an autopsy.
Based on those conversations, Guevara decided that Scalia had died of natural causes. She pronounced him dead without going to the scene and allowed his body to be flown home.
Now, the Internet is rife with rumors that Scalia was poisoned, suffocated with that pillow or injected with a drug that kills by mimicking a heart attack. I remember a “Star Trek” episode involving such a death. Perhaps that’s where the Nimoy connection comes from.
Besides all the nonsense spouted by Internet kooks, the handling of Scalia’s death is being questioned by more credible people. The New York Post quoted a retired Brooklyn, N.Y., homicide detective and the former head of criminal investigations for the police department in Washington, D.C. Both were astonished that Scalia hadn’t been autopsied.
If the unexpectedly-dead 79-year-old with “health problems” had been Joe Blow, fine. But Scalia, a sitting justice of the Supreme Court and a conservative icon, was one of the highest-ranking people in the federal government. Surely, his death deserved more attention than a visual inspection of his body by medically untrained cops and a few phone calls made by a medically untrained justice of the peace.
I think Scalia died from heart disease. I think “heart attack drugs” are nonsense. I’m not concerned about the pillow. Why would an assassin suffocate a person with a pillow and leave it over his head? Besides, Scalia doesn’t strike me as the sort of submissive weakling who would lie quietly and permit himself to be suffocated. He’d fight, and his assailant would have to inflict obvious injuries to subdue him, unless he were drugged into unconsciousness – speculation that, without an autopsy, nobody can disprove.
The Scalia family’s objection to an autopsy deserves compassionate consideration, but in a case like this, I think the best interests of the public trump. And I think it would have been in the best interest of the public to do an autopsy and a full battery of toxicology tests.
Anyone who thinks Scalia was killed by aliens, the Illuminati or Leonard Nimoy will think so regardless, but most people would accept the conclusions of a competent medical examiner who conducted a full investigation.
I don’t think Scalia was murdered, but the unexpected death of someone of his stature always raises suspicion. Official nonchalance supports perceptions of a cover-up.
Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, served as La Plata County coroner from 2003-12. She now lives in Florida and Maryland. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.