My friend William Turnbow has provided a thoroughly researched list of the questions and irregularities surrounding Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. I have reprinted it with his permission. Sources are provided at the end of this post. If you have any insight into any of the items on this list, please provide them in the comments.
It’s worth noting that he’s not saying foul play occurred, or that this is some kind of conspiracy. But these irregularities should, at the very least, call into question the competency of the officials responsible for the investigation of this man’s death.
So as you may have heard, no autopsy has been conducted, nor is one known to be planned, on the remains of Justice Antonin Scalia. This disturbed me when I learned of this, but as I continued to review news reports, I found some very strange circumstances around the decision to not order an autopsy.
At this point there is still a lot of confusion about what exactly happened over this weekend. Many of the accounts at this point directly contradict each other on important and unimportant details. An unexpected event of national importance is bound to upset the routine of a sleep rural backwater, and some allowance must be made of that, too. Present confusions in the record can only be settled with time… for what it is worth.
I’ve left numbered references to source URL’s in (parens)… please see the Sources section at the end of this report.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve found from several hours gleaning news reports:
1. The body of Justice Scalia was not examined by any physician or pathologist, even for a quick exam. This includes Justice Scalia’s personal physician, who was not present in West Texas, a point not made plain in news reports. (2)
2. The official who issued the declaration of death was obliged by state law to call for an inquest, and did have the option to call for a formal or an informal proceeding. (1) The “inquest” was conducted by phone, and appears to have relied solely on the assurances of on-the-scene law enforcement that “no foul play” was suspected. (2, 5) At least one report implies that Justice Scalia’s physician was consulted by phone before the declaration of death, but the exact circumstances of the declaration and its points of evidence are vague, if not contradictory. (5)
3. There is no reported convincing reason for a Presidio County official, any official, with the power to conduct an inquest not to have been at the Cibolo Ranch personally and in a timely manner. This is very strange because Texas law makes it clear that while responsible officials do have discretion in where to conduct an inquest, it clearly makes the site of death, or the site where the body was found, the preferred location.
There were three Presidio County officials potentially responsible for handling any inquest and declaration regarding Justice Scalia. One of them was over a hundred miles away at the time, (8) but two of them were an hour’s drive from the site of Justice Scalia’s death. (2, 8) A miscommunication about the nature of the death may have contributed to some confusion among these officials, but there is still no explanation about why it took as long as it did for one of them to show up at the scene.
A “Justice of the Peace” (here, “JoP”)of a Texas county is the official responsible for conducting an inquest into a death, under Texas state law. The official who issued the declaration of death, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara, is not a “Justice Of The Peace,” but is simply a County Judge. Judge Guevara was handed the responsibility because neither of the two Presidio County JoPs were in the County (8). However:
3A. Judge Guevara claims that she was in the city of Alpine in Brewster County, just east of Presidio County, on a shopping trip. (2) Per both Google Maps and the on-site reporting of a news reporter (8), this city is about an hour’s drive from “Cibolo Creek Ranch,” where Justice Scalia died. More on this later.
The JoP who had primary jurisdiction, Justice of the Peace Juanita Bishop, was 120 miles away in Fort Stockton, Texas when she was informed that “a dead body” – no name attached – needed an inquest.
3B. JoP Bishop then called JoP David Beebe, who, again, was ignorant of the identity of the body at Cibolo Ranch, and declined to attend, being at a political function outside of Presidio County (and more on this point below)…(8)
3C. JoP Bishop then claims she contacted Judge Guevara, who (you will recall) claims she was in Alpine in Brewster County. Guevara was then (I infer; the sequence is confused) contacted by Presidio County Sheriff Dominguez and finally told (through a spotty cell phone call, reception being poor to non-existant around the Cibolo Ranch) the news that the body was of Justice Scalia. (2)
3D. So here’re the curious bits:
3D1. Judge Guevara, despite having a very hard time talking with Sheriff Dominguez via cell phone, elected to conduct the “inquest” over the phone.
3D2. Judge Guevara was about an hour’s drive from the Cibolo Ranch, in Alpine TX. She claims she first learned of Judge Scalia’s death “just after lunch.” She issued Justice Scalia’s declaration of death at 1:52 PM (2). She did not actually appear at Cibolo Ranch until 4:30 PM.(18) There is no ready explanation for why she did not immediately drive to Cibolo Ranch and conduct the inquest there.
3D3. Now: it seems very likely that Justice Of The Peace David Beebe was *also* in the town of Alpine at the same time as Judge Guevara. No report puts these two facts together, but it seems clear that he was attending a Democratic Party candidate forum for West Texas in the town of Alpine at the time.
This raises the question: why didn’t Judge Guevara “kick the problem upstairs” when she learned who the decedent was? Was she unaware that JoP Beebe was also in Alpine? One phone call to JoP Beebe or JoP Bishop could have sorted this whole thing out in a timely fashion.
3E. Per Texas law, the location of an inquest can be stipulated by the acting official – but this option is at the end of a short, and enumerated, list:
The Texas Criminal Code states: (1)
Art. 49.05. TIME AND PLACE OF INQUEST; REMOVAL OF PROPERTY AND BODY FROM PLACE OF DEATH. (a) A justice of the peace shall conduct an inquest immediately or as soon as practicable after the justice receives notification of the death.
(b) A justice of the peace may conduct an inquest:
(1) at the place where the death occurred;
(2) where the body was found; or
(3) at any other place determined to be reasonable by the justice.
Query: was the choice to conduct an inquest over the phone, and over an bad cell phone connection at that (2), a “reasonable” alternative – particularly given the proximity of the Cibolo Ranch to at least two county Judges?
4. Contributing to the circumstances, it seems that the US Marshals, who handle security for travelling SCOTUS judges, were not requested to accompany Justice Scalia that weekend. Presumably, it was Justice Scalia who declined the security detail. (19)
The US Marshalls did arrive at the Ranch on report of the Justice’s death, but these were deputy US Marshalls based in West Texas. (19)
5. News reports make it plain that almost everyone who had business at Cibolo Ranch that morning and afternoon because of the Justice’s passing – a priest (14), the US Marshalls (19), the Presidio County Sheriff (2), and the FBI (18), had no trouble getting there quickly… all except the county justices.
Even a news reporter who was in Alpine, TX as of 3 PM on Saturday, attending the same Democratic Party political function as JoP Beebe, was able to drive directly to the Cibolo Ranch in about an hour. (8)
6. There is one official per Texas Law who may direct a Justice Of The Peace to conduct an autopsy: the county District Attorney.
There is no report that Presidio County District Attorney Rod Ponton (11) was consulted or even informed.
7. There are strange reports concerning the “proceedings” of the inquest, such as it was, held by Judge Guevara:
7A. “”She planned to drive to the ranch — about 30 minutes south of Marfa — but returned when a U.S. Marshal told her by phone: “It’s not necessary for you to come, judge. If you’re asking for an autopsy, that’s what we need to clarify.” (2)
“Not necessary for you to come”…? To put it mildly this indicates gross arrogation of jurisdiction by a federal officer – and complicity in such arrogation, by Judge Guevara.
7B. “As part of my investigation one of the things I did ask the sheriff and the U.S. Marshal: ‘Were there any signs of foul play? And they said, ‘Absolutely not.’ At that time, I still wanted to be careful and asked them if [Scalia’s] physician would call me.”
And yet, we have this report from the Cibolo Ranch owner, John Poindexter: (3)
US SUPREME Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s head was under a pillow when he was found dead at a Texas ranch, according to the ranch owner who found his body.
Texas millionaire John Poindexter found the 79-year-old jurist in the “El Presidente” suite at Poindexter’s 30,000-acre luxury ranch on Saturday.
“We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled,” he told the San Antonio Express-News Sunday. “It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.”
He later told The New York Times, “His hands were sort of almost folded on top of the sheets. The sheets weren’t rumpled up at all.”
OK so an assassin wouldn’t have left a pillow on the Judge’s head. (Let alone, his face…) The detail about the unwrinkled clothes, though…. seems peculiar, as if the Justice was not in bed long before he died.
Justice Scalia apparently went to bed early, about 9PM the night before. His body was not discovered until 11 AM the next morning. That’s 14 hours we have no insight into, and so far, no estimate of the time of death, due to the way this “inquest” has been handled.
7C. “While some reports claimed Scalia’s death was caused by a heart attack, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said he died of “natural causes.” This does not make any sense at all. (14)
7D. Remarkably, the JoP who normally has jurisdiction in that part of Presidio County, JoP Bishop, said that were it up to her, she would have ordered an autopsy. (14)
7E. News reports imply that Judge Guevara closed the “inquest” without ordering an autopsy, after consulting Judge Scalia’s physician and/or reviewing medical records (18). However, the only reported conversation between Guevara and the unnamed physician apparently took place at 8PM Saturday night (2) – many hours after the 1:52 PM declaration of death. So it is unclear if there was a specific point at which she decided not to order an autopsy, and what she knew when she made that decision.
7F. If there was something in Justice Scalia’s medical record that did *reasonably contribute* to his death, then why was the Justice allowed to travel as much as he did? He had just returned from a trip to Hong Kong, a book-signing venture. (7) Was the Justice under any medical restriction? The fact that he made a trip to such an isolated ranch seems to indicate that he wasn’t under any such restriction.
Other points seem to beg investigation. Judge Scalia’s body was transported to a funeral home in El Paso and there embalmed. (2) And yet, the closest funeral home to the Cibolo Ranch was… in Alpine, Texas, where two-thirds of the Justices of Presidio County had been that day, and which is halfway to Fort Stockton, where the third JoP was at. (8) Curiously, one report states that the El Paso funeral home was requested by Judge Scalia’s family. (8)
Also, it’s been reported that Judge Scalia’s family “declined” an autopsy, but a manager of the El Paso funeral home that had temporary custody of Judge Scalia’s body reported that the family “…didn’t think a private autopsy was necessary and requested that his remains be returned to Washington as soon as possible…” (5) The difference is subtle, but it seems important… was the family fully informed about the circumstances behind Judge Guevara’s refusal to order an autopsy?
–End of Report–
February 16, 2016