The body of Urooj Khan, the Illinois Lottery winner who authorities now say died of cyanide poisoning, was exhumed Friday morning.
Family members said they hope the dig at Rosehill Cemetery, on Chicago's north side, will lead to answers as to who may have killed Khan, and why.
"We are confident he was a healthy person and cannot die like that," Khan's brother, ImTiaz Khan, said Thursday evening. "We are just praying to God that justice will be serviced, and whoever did this will be punished."
The 46-year-old'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. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina said there really was no initial autopsy. Given Khan's age and the absence of apparent trauma, only his blood and urine were sampled.
A relative later requested the Cook County Medical Examiner take another look. Cina did, and that second look revealed lethal levels of cyanide. A judge last Friday granted a request to exhume the body for further testing.
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 will be 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."
A full report of the autopsy should be available within three months, Lamasney said.