The Texas justice of the peace who pronounced Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dead – and directed that the cause of death be determined a heart attack – never saw the body. All of the post mortem legal work, without a bona fide post mortem examination by a certified medical examiner to determine the cause of death for one of the world’s most powerful, controversial, influential, politically conservative men was carried out in absentia. Incredible.
Something is very wrong here.
I was going to wait for some time before writing anything about Justice Scalia’s death and what will follow in the wake of his passing. But when I saw this report in the Washington Post , every alarm in my retired cop’s head went off in a big way. In any death where the deceased was not under a physician’s care for a terminal illness, there were no witnesses to the death, and there were no medical personnel in attendance at the time of death, an autopsy is standard operating procedure.
That is Death Investigation 101 material.
Here are some clips from the WashPo report:
MARFA, Tex. — Inside the cloistered chambers of the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia’s days were highly regulated and predictable. He met with clerks, wrote opinions and appeared for arguments in the august courtroom on a schedule set months in advance.
Yet as details of his sudden death trickled in Sunday, it appeared that the hours afterward were anything but orderly. The man known for his elegant legal opinions and profound intellect was found dead in his room at a hunting resort by a ranch owner.
That room should have been sealed off and a list of people coming and going, a crime scene log, should have been started immediately by responding law enforcement personnel. Even if there was not any obvious evidence that a crime had been committed. It was a death investigation – and the death of a very important and controversial man, at that.
It then took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. When they did, she pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body and decided not to order an autopsy.A second justice of the peace, who was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time, said she would have ordered an autopsy.
Indeed. There should have been an autopsy.
“If it had been me . . . I would want to know,” Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Tex., told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday about the chaotic hours after Scalia’s death at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury compound less than an hour from the Mexican border and about 40 miles south of Marfa.
The U.S. Marshals Service has not issued a statement about the events surrounding the death on Saturday of Scalia, who had recently returned from a trip to the Far East, where his last public event was a book signing in Hong Kong. And as official Washington tried to process what the justice’s death means for politics and the law, some details of his final hours remained opaque.
Let’s leave the political maneuvering out of the death investigation. Come to think of it, let’s have a real death investigation.
As late as Sunday afternoon, there were conflicting reports about whether an autopsy would be performed, though officials later said Scalia’s body was being embalmed and there would be no autopsy. One report, by WFAA-TV in Dallas, said the death certificate would show the cause of the death was a heart attack...
A heart attack. Seriously? Perhaps it was a heart attack. Perhaps it was something else. We’re never going to know why he died.
With regard to the description of the evening’s events prior to his death and Scalia’s death scene we have this from the WashPo:
…Although law enforcement officials said Scalia left a private party that night [Saturday], attended by about 40 people, to go to bed early, [John] Poindexter said that didn’t seem unusual…Scalia did not show up for breakfast the next morning. People at first thought he might be sleeping in, but they eventually grew concerned, the officials said.
Poindexter and one other person knocked on his room door, didn’t get an answer, and went inside.
“Everything was in perfect order. He was in his pajamas, peacefully, in bed,” Poindexter said, adding that Scalia had been his usual affable self at the ranch and that “his behavior was entirely natural and normal.’’
After emergency personnel and officials from the U.S. Marshals Service were called to the scene, two local judges who also serve as justices of the peace were called, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said in an interview Sunday. Both were out of town, she said — not unusual in a remote region where municipalities are spread far apart.
Yes. Perhaps. But this death could very well change the course of America’s history.
Guevara also was out of town, but she said she declared Scalia dead based on information provided by officials at the scene, citing Texas laws that allow a justice of the peace to declare someone dead without seeing the body.
Okay. Fine. If that’s the Texas law, then that’s the law. But next comes the real kicker:
Guevara declined to comment further to The Post, but told WFAA that Scalia’s death certificate would list myocardial infarction — a heart attack — as the official cause of death.
Really? Does Texas law allow a judge to pronounce the cause of death? A myocardial infarction? A blocked cardiac artery? Without benefit of an autopsy? The law says that in Texas a judge is also a pathologist, coroner and medical examiner in absentia?
Folks, this whole situation reeks to high Heaven. This just stinks.
We know that the internet literally exploded with celebratory posts from Twitter tweeters on the political left who were more than happy to learn that Justice Antonin Scalia was dead.
It is beyond comprehension that the cause of his death is not going to be determined by a pathologist, by and through a thorough, professional post mortem examination.