supreme court

Let’s put this out here first: I don’t suspect any foul play in the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. What I do suspect is a terrible job by law enforcement and a lack of foresight to conduct a proper death scene investigation. The mishandling of the death scene by law enforcement has given rise to many ‘theories,’ ‘conspiracies’ and ‘coverups.’

It’s been a number of days now that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia was found dead in a ranch in Shafter, Texas. Since then, all kinds of conspiracy theories have bubbled up to the top, only because law enforcement didn’t properly do its job. The discussion shouldn’t be about if the President should be able to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the end of his term, but what went wrong with the investigation or lack thereof?
Every death should be treated as if it is suspicious until proven otherwise. If not, people get away with murder. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, American Law Enforcement only closes about 65% of all murders leaving about 5,000 cold cases every year. Detectives should arrive at the scene and conduct an investigation, including taking photographs, conducting canvasses and examining the body for post mortem changes. In addition, conduct canvasses and document interviews. You don’t get a second chance to do it right the first time.

What is the Post Mortem Interval

The Post Mortem Interval – changes to the body after death – could have played a key role in validating witness statements regarding Justice Scalia’s death. Was Livor Mortis (pooling of blood in the dependent areas of the body) or Rigor Mortis (stiffening of the joints) present? Were they consistent with the timeline? We don’t need the medical examiner / coroner or medicolegal investigator to tell investigators that. Detectives should have a basic understanding of what they are and how long they generally take. Both Rigor and Livor Mortis can also tell investigators if the body has been moved. In addition, petechial hemorrhages in the inside of the lips and eyelids should have also been something that investigators should have looked for. There is no indication that was done or what the result was.  Petechial hemorrhages are pin point red dots that could indicate an asphyxial death.

Asking a doctor to sign off on a death certificate over the phone is not unusual, but only after conducting a scene investigation – which apparently wasn’t thorough. However, this was a United States Supreme Court Justice! All of the “Is” should have been dotted and the “Ts” should have been crossed. Reports are slowly leaking out about the scene, including that the Justice had a pillow over his face, the family denied to have an autopsy and the body was embalmed in less than 24 hours. Just because the family doesn’t want an autopsy, should have had no bearing on the case or decision to have one – that’s up to the medical examiner / coroner if they feel otherwise. That was hard to do in this case, since neither one went to the scene.

We will never know what happened in that room, nor will we ever know what was the real cause and manner of death. Some basic investigative steps that weren’t done by law enforcement, could have saved the American public a lot of grief. To make matters worse, Justice Scalia had requested that no security detail come with him on the trip, further fueling speculation.

I think that it’s time we have a national discussion on standardizing death investigations in the United States as well as moving more jurisdictions away from the coroner system and into the medical examiner system. Also, the role of medicolegal investigators should be expanded nationwide to help interpret death scenes and all patrol officers and detectives should receive training in handling death scenes.

Listen to my live interview on WRCN 103.9 FM Long Island News Radio on the Death Investigation of Justice Scalia.