The circumstances surrounding the death of Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia led some detectives to question why his body was not autopsied.
After he was found Saturday morning at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in west Texas, Scalia’s body was transported to El Paso by the Texas Department of Public Safety and U.S. Marshals. Scalia’s remains arrived at the Sunset Funeral Home around 3:30 a.m. Sunday where he was embalmed, which is required by Texas law before it can be moved to another state.
The Washington Post reported that “a manager at the El Paso funeral home where Scalia’s body was taken said that his family made it clear they did not want” an autopsy.
In a frantic search for a justice of the peace, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead by natural causes without seeing his body or ordering an autopsy, and based off of the details she was given by law enforcement over the phone.
However, Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio who was contacted but could not get to Scalia’s body, told the Washington Post she would have made a different decision concerning Scalia’s body, because she “would want to know.”
Bill Ritchie, a retired deputy chief and former head of criminal investigations for the DC police, told the New York Post that he was shocked to learn that no autopsy would be performed.
“How do you know that person wasn’t smothered? How do you know it’s not a homicide until you conduct an investigation?” Ritchie questioned. “You have to do your job. Once you go through that process, you can conclude that this is a naturally occurring death.”
John Poindexter, the owner of the Cibolo Creek Ranch, claimed that Scalia was found “in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled.”
Poindexter described Scalia as “lying very restfully,” and said he “looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.”
Retired Brooklyn homicide Detective Patricia Tufo told the New York Post that he also questioned the lack of autopsy when a pillow was found over the head of a Supreme Court Justice.
“He’s not at home. There are no witnesses to his death, and there was no reported explanation for why there was a pillow over his head,” Tufo said. “So I think under the circumstances it’s not unreasonable to request an autopsy. Despite the fact that he has pre-existing ailments and the fact that he’s almost 80 years old, you want to be sure that it’s not something other than natural causes.”
As a staunch conservative voice on the Supreme Court, Scalia’s death could affect the outcome of upcoming cases. Last week, Scalia voted to put a hold on President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” which was presented as a regulation to help lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants.
Reuters noted that without Scalia’s vote, “the conservative members of the court no longer have a majority, at least in the short term,” and the “sudden shift has given a boost to the supporters of the emissions rule.”