The Cook County Medical Examiner Friday released the results of an autopsy that was performed on the exhumed body of Urooj Khan, the Illinois Lottery winner who authorities say died of cyanide poisoning.
"The manner of death is homicide," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina.
That's about all he could say as the autopsy didn't provide any conclusive results. The post-exhumation autopsy of cyanide poisoning victim Urooj Khan could not confirm how the toxin entered his body.
“Cyanide has a short half-life and may be lost over the postmortem period unless tissues are adequately preserved,” Dr. Cina said. “In this case, due to advanced putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detectable in the tissues or small amounts of gastric contents recovered following exhumation of the body.”
A lethal level of cyanide was detected in the initial blood sample taken by the Medical Examiner’s office on July 21, 2012. That finding was confirmed last month by an independent toxicology lab.
The post-exhumation autopsy also revealed that one of Khan’s major coronary arteries was about 75 percent blocked.
“Since cyanide affects oxygen utilization in the tissues, it follows logically that a natural disease process that already limits blood flow to the heart could render an individual particularly susceptible to death due to this toxin,” he said. “For this reason, coronary artery disease is deemed a contributory factor to this fatality.”
Family members have been waiting to find out more information on what appears to be a tragicand mysterious demise.
"There was a lethal amount of cyanice circulating in his blood stream at the time of death," he said. But there was no cyanide present in the tissues or organs after the autopsy.
Khan's death in July, a single day after lottery officials presented him with a check for more than $425,000, was originally attributed to natural causes.
Dr. Jon Lomasney, the Director of Autopsy Service at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said that while the upcoming autopsy will be difficult, it should reveal new details.
"After six months of lying in state it's going to be a lot of degradation. The body is not going to be well preserved. ... There's going to be liquefaction of a lot of organs," he said.
During the autopsy, which should take about two hours to perform, all of the internal organs were removed and dissected individually. Samples of the soil surrounding Khan's body were also taken because some microbes can produce cyanide.
Lomasney said residual chemicals and substances would still be present after six months, and investigators would be able to determine if those levels were normal or not. Cyanide, he explained, can be ingested in food or liquid. It can also be inhaled.
"If you find high levels of cyanide in the lungs higher than the other organs like the stomach or blood, then you can determine that the cyanide was taken into the body via inhalation," he said. "Likewise if you find the highest levels in the stomach then it was probably ingested."