That U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found with a pillow over his face in his hotel room at the luxury Texas ranch on Saturday has given rise to conspiracy theories that foul play might have been involved in his passing.
Adding fuel to the fire is the lack of an autopsy, which is prompting a certain degree of controversy, and perhaps additional far-fetched internet theories, along with others of more forensic nature discussed below.
Justice Scalia’s family has rejected the notion of a politically motivated conspiracy against him, however.
Scalia, 79, one of the most influential and respected jurists in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court who served there for almost 30 years, died of natural causes, a vague term which “could include any number of specific diseases that can lead to death, from cancer to heart conditions, according to USA Today.
Scalia was pronounced dead by a judge who did it by telephone and never visited the scene, based on what U.S. marshals and other officials at the ranch told her.
The justice’s doctor reportedly revealed that Scalia was dealing with several health issues.
“The Associated Press reported that [the Texas judge] said the doctor told her that Scalia had a history of high blood pressure, heart trouble and was considered too weak to undergo shoulder surgery following a recent injury,” ABC News detailed.
Texas law allows for inquests by phone, but “[h]ad Scalia died in another state with stricter rules about death investigations, the conspiracy theories might never have had a chance to blossom,” the Los Angeles Times explained.
Supreme Court justices are eligible for personal security protection, but apparently Scalia declined any federal bodyguards for the Texas trip.
Scalia’s death has huge ramifications for the country, which perhaps is giving rise to conspiracy theories. If confirmed, an Obama replacement would tip the balance on the nation’s highest court from five conservatives and four liberals to just the opposite. According to CBS News, the president has rejected the suggestion to appoint a moderate.
If a four-four split continues on any pending cases this term in the meantime, the lower court ruling will prevail. While not establishing any binding legal precedent for the entire country, a deadlock will obviously have a major impact on each particular case and the jurisdiction where each originated.
As alluded to above, the Scalia family has declined an autopsy, which is, of course, their right, but that has also raised eyebrows among some in the law enforcement community.
On Laura Ingraham’s radio show, Scalia’s son Eugene, a prominent lawyer is his own right, said, “Our family just has no doubt that he was taken from us by natural causes. And we accept that. We’re praying for him. We ask others to accept that and pray for him.”
He also deemed any conspiracy theories a distraction from his father’s huge legal legacy and hurtful to the family.
A former New York City police detective, however, told the New York Post that an autopsy would have been reasonable given that Scalia was a high-ranking U.S. government official.
“He’s not at home. There are no witnesses to his death, and there was no reported explanation for why a pillow is over his head. 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.”
A retired D.C. homicide investigator was more forceful in his opinion about the circumstances surrounding Justice Scalia’s passing at the ranch.
“I took a look at the report and I almost fell out of my chair. I used to be an instructor in the homicide school. Every death investigation you are handling, you consider it a homicide until the investigation proves otherwise. How do you know that person wasn’t smothered? How do you know it’s not a homicide until you conduct an investigation? You have to do your job. Once you go through that process, you can conclude that this is a naturally occurring death.”
Conspiracy theories swirl… https://t.co/6T7FxgYG8b
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) February 16, 2016
The detective, Bill Ritchie, who was in charge of criminal investigations while on the D.C. force, added the following, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“My gut tells me there is something fishy going on in Texas…You have a non-homicide trained U.S. Marshal tell the justice of peace that no foul play was observed. You have a justice of the peace pronounce death while not being on the scene and without any medical training opining that the justice died of a heart attack. What medical proof exists of a myocardial Infarction? Why not a cerebral hemorrhage?…How can the Marshal say, without a thorough post mortem, that he was not injected with an illegal substance that would simulate a heart attack…Did the US Marshal check for petechial hemorrhage in his eyes or under his lips that would have suggested suffocation? Did the US Marshal smell his breath for any unusual odor that might suggest poisoning?”
Former New York City chief medical examiner Michael Baden suggested that Scalia could have been poisoned but that “natural causes was a plausible explanation.”
Longtime homicide investigator Joseph Scott Morgan acknowledged that he was troubled by Justice Scalia being found dead with no witnesses to what happened. He “believes that, at a minimum, a thorough external examination should have been done, together with collection of bodily fluids for testing. If nothing else, that would put to rest conspiracy theorists,” LawNewz reported.
According to a forensic pathologist contacted by the New York Times who was chief medical examiner in San Antonio, “What you have is an elderly man found dead in bed, and if he was not on the Supreme Court everyone would say, O.K., and nothing more would happen. It is only who he was that makes it a big deal. You can make an argument that they should have done an autopsy, but the only reason you would do it is he is a Supreme Court judge.” Another forensic expert told the Times that it was “almost unbelievable” that no autopsy was performed as in this instance “when a politically prominent person dies unexpectedly, and especially if unobserved.”
Donald Trump weighs in
During an interview with radio host and conservative gadfly/firebrand Michael Savage on Monday when the subject of Justice Scalia’s death came up, GOP front-runner Donald Trump admitted that “It’s a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
On his website, Savage declared that there would be more of an outcry if a liberal justice would have died under the same odd circumstances.
“Question: do you think the left would be screaming foul play if a Republican were in office like Donald Trump and only a few months left to go? Do you think the left would be screaming that Donald Trump would have no right to appoint anyone to the Supreme Court? Do you think they would be demanding an autopsy and a full federal investigation? …The question is, is it a conspiracy theory to ask questions that are so obviously in need of answer, or is it just common sense. And where is the common sense both in the press and the Republican Party. The answer is nowhere. And that’s why I am Michael Savage… How come there’s been no request for an autopsy even though reports suggest that a Supreme Court Justice was found with ‘a pillow over his head,’ and he died alone without any witnesses. My friends, something stinks.”
In the dialogue with Trump, Savage called for a Warren Commission-style investigation (the official group that investigated the JFK assassination) and “an immediate autopsy before the body is disposed of.”
Donald Trump foe Leon Wolf of Red State offered an alternative view that refuted any assassination conspiracy against the late justice.
“One would think that a would-be assassin of an aged and ailing Supreme Court Justice who wanted to make his death look like an accident by smothering him with a pillow might have, you know, bothered to remove the pillow from Scalia’s head so as not to arouse suspicion after he was done with the act, but apparently reasonable thinking is not the currency anyone is trading in today. The fact that Scalia was found inside a closed room with no signs of forced entry and that he was in an apparent state of repose with unwrinkled clothes also does not matter.”
— POLITICO (@politico) February 17, 2016
Parenthetically, the White House has announced that President Obama will not attend Justice Scalia’s funeral on Saturday.
Do you think there is a basis for any conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered or is it just wild speculation?
[Photo by Charles Tasnadi/AP]