Scalia was found dead in his room at a luxury hunting resort in the state’s Big Bend region by the resort’s owner. It took hours for authorities to find a justice of the peace. When they did, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body — which is permissible under Texas law — and without ordering an autopsy.
On Sunday, the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security for Supreme Court justices, said that Scalia had declined a security detail while at the ranch, so marshals were not present when he died. When the marshals were notified, deputy marshals from the Western District of Texas went to the scene, the service said in a statement.
Guevara said she declared Scalia dead based on information from law enforcement officials on the scene, who assured her that “there were no signs of foul play.” She also spoke to Scalia’s doctor, who told her that the justice had been to see him Wednesday and Thursday last week for a shoulder injury and that he had ordered an MRI for Scalia, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. The 79-year-old justice also suffered from several chronic conditions, Guevara said. She said she was awaiting a statement from the physician to complete Scalia’s death certificate.
The manager of the El Paso funeral home that handled Scalia’s body said Scalia’s family insisted on not having an autopsy done. But the decision has spawned a host of conspiracy theories online, as well as skeptical questions from law enforcement experts such as Ritchie.
“You have a Supreme Court Justice who died, not in attendance of a physician,” he wrote. “You have a non-homicide trained US 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?”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Guevara has said she rebutted a report by a Dallas TV station that Scalia had died of “myocardial infarction.” She said she meant only that his heart had stopped.
Ritchie also raised questions about the marshals’ actions:
“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? My gut tells me there is something fishy going on in Texas.”
A spokesman for the marshals service said Monday that the marshals did not make a formal determination of death. He directed questions to the county judge who made the call.
Scalia’s physician, Brian Monahan, is a U.S. Navy rear admiral and the attending physician for the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court. He declined to comment on Scalia’s health when reached by telephone Monday at his home in Maryland.
“Patient confidentiality forbids me to make any comment on the subject,” he said.
When asked whether he planned to make public the statement he’s preparing for Guevara, Monahan repeated the same statement and hung up on a reporter.
Eva Ruth Moravec in Austin contributed to this report.
This post has been updated.