The Texas judge who pronounced Justice Antonin Scalia dead over the weekend but did not request an autopsy defended her decision Tuesday in the face of questions and conspiracy theories floating online, saying she was respecting the wishes of his relatives.
After Scalia died suddenly at a remote West Texas resort, a chaotic and confused scene unfolded in the remote region not far from the border with Mexico. It took hours to find a justice of the peace, and when they did, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead without seeing his body, which is allowed under Texas law.
This decision was made based on what Scalia’s family wanted and what she was told by a law enforcement official, Guevara said.
Guevara decided against the autopsy after the county sheriff told her “there were no signs of foul play or struggle, and that it appeared that Justice Scalia had died peacefully in his sleep,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
After that, Guevara said, she reached out to Scalia’s attorney, who said “that the family requested that there be no autopsy, that they believed Justice Scalia had died of natural causes, and they preferred there be no delay in the return of Justice Scalia’s remains to Virginia.”
She then reached out to Scalia’s personal doctor, who “stated that he believed that the death was due to natural causes,” according to Guevara.
The decision not to order an autopsy has prompted skeptical questions from law enforcement, like William O. Ritchie, former head of criminal investigations for D.C. police.
“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,” Ritchie wrote on Facebook. He also questioned whether authorities could be sure “that he was not injected with an illegal substance that would simulate a heart attack.”
On Monday, Scalia’s physician, Brian Monahan, a U.S. Navy rear admiral and the attending physician for Congress and the Supreme Court, declined to discuss the justice’s health when reached at his home in Maryland.
“Patient confidentiality forbids me to make any comment on the subject,” he said.
Scalia’s death has also been followed by a host of conspiracy theories speculating about what could have happened.
According to the John Poindexter, the Houston businessman who owns the Cibolo Creek Ranch, Scalia and a friend arrived on a chartered flight and joined 35 other people at the resort. He joined a group hunting for blue quail on Friday, attended a private party and ultimately went to bed early.
The following morning, when he did not show up for breakfast, Poindexter and another person knocked on the door to Scalia’s expansive “El Presidente” suite and found him.
“Everything was in perfect order. He was in his pajamas, peacefully, in bed,” Poindexter said.
Eva Ruth Moravec, Sari Horwitz, Jerry Markon and Lena Sun contributed to this report.