Poisoned U.S. lottery winner's body exhumed in murder probe

CHICAGO Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:57am IST

The body of Urooj Khan is carried to a hearse for forensic autopsy by the Cook County Medical Examiners office in Chicago, January 18, 2013. REUTERS/John Gress

The body of Urooj Khan is carried to a hearse for forensic autopsy by the Cook County Medical Examiners office in Chicago, January 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The body of a man who died from cyanide poisoning shortly after winning a $1 million lottery prize was exhumed on Friday from a Chicago cemetery and major organs and stomach contents tested, authorities said.

The findings from the tests on Urooj Khan, 46, will not be known for several weeks as authorities try to determine how the cyanide was introduced into his body, said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner.

"The body was in an advanced state of decomposition, but nevertheless, doctors were able to retrieve samples from his organs and also stomach contents, which is very key if he ingested the poison," Paleologos said.

Khan died on July 20 without a will, and his estate was mired in a legal battle in the probate division of Cook County Circuit Court. A judge on January 11 granted investigators permission to obtain the additional forensic samples.

A tent was erected over the burial vault in the cemetery, and Khan's body and other potential evidence were removed on Friday morning. The autopsy was completed by noon.

Investigators are trying to determine if the cyanide was ingested, injected or inhaled, Paleologos said. Khan will be reburied on Monday, she said.

Khan's death initially was ruled to be caused by heart disease, and no autopsy was performed. Toxicology results indicated no drugs or carbon monoxide present.

But several days after his body was released for burial, an unidentified family member asked the medical examiner to revisit the case. The medical examiner's office ordered comprehensive toxicological testing of samples already in its possession.

Final tests results confirmed in November that there was a lethal level of cyanide in Khan's blood, according to the medical examiner, which ruled his death a homicide.

Chicago police are investigating the death as a murder.

Khan presented his winning ticket to the lottery on May 31 and chose a lump-sum payment of about $424,500 after taxes. A check was sent to him from Springfield, Illinois, on July 19 or July 20, so it was unlikely he ever saw it, a spokesman for the Illinois Lottery said.

Khan, his wife, Shabana Ansari, and his daughter from his first marriage, Jasmeen Khan, gathered on June 26 at the store where he bought the ticket, according to the lottery.

The state of Illinois has placed a freeze on the lottery check, which Ansari is refusing to turn over to the estate, according to court filings by the administrator. (Reporting by John Gress in Chicago and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Greg McCune)

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