Since the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia who was found dead in his resort hotel room at Cibolo Creek Creek Ranch on Saturday, questions have been flying about the immediate declaration of “natural causes” as the means of death.
According to the ranch owner and staff, Scalia was in good spirits and described as “animated and engaged” during dinner Friday night. He was one of three dozen invitees to an event unrelated to law or politics.
WND reported that just hours later, after missing both breakfast and lunch, he was found dead of apparent natural causes. Later, media outlets reported he had suffered a heart attack.
Houston businessman John Poindexter, who owns the 30,000-acre luxury ranch, told the San Antonio Express-News: “He was seated near me and I had a chance to observe him. He was very entertaining. But about 9 p.m. he said, ‘It’s been a long day and a long week, I want to get some sleep.’”
Poindexter knocked on Scalia’s door about 8:30 the next morning. The door was locked and the judge did not answer. Three hours later, Poindexter returned from an outing and determined Scalia was still missing.
“We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled,” said Poindexter.
“He was lying very restfully. It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap,” he said.
“His hands were sort of almost folded on top of the sheets,” Poindexter told the New York Times. “The sheets weren’t rumpled up at all.”
Scalia did not have a pulse and his body was cold, and after consulting with a doctor at a hospital in Alpine, Poindexter concluded resuscitation would have been futile. He then contacted federal authorities, at first encountering a series of answering services because he was calling on a weekend.
“Ultimately they became available and handled it superbly,” he told the Express-News. “They flew in by helicopter. They told me to secure the ranch, which I did until this morning.”
The Washington Post reported that after Scalia’s body was found:
It then took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. When they did, she pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body and decided not to order an autopsy. A second justice of the peace, who was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time, said she would have ordered an autopsy.
As late as Sunday afternoon, there were conflicting reports about whether an autopsy would be performed, though officials later said Scalia’s body was being embalmed and there would be no autopsy. One report, by WFAA-TV in Dallas, said the death certificate would show the cause of the death was a heart attack.
As late as Sunday afternoon, for example, there were conflicting reports about whether an autopsy should have been performed. A manager at the El Paso funeral home where Scalia’s body was taken said his family made it clear that they did not want one.
Meanwhile, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara acknowledged that she pronounced Scalia dead by phone, without seeing his body. Instead, she spoke to law enforcement officials at the scene – who assured her “there were no signs of foul play” – and Scalia’s physician in Washington, who said that the 79-year-old justice suffered from a host of chronic conditions.
“He was having health issues,” Guevara said, adding that she is awaiting a statement from Scalia’s doctor that will be added to his death certificate when it is issued later this week.
Guevara also rebutted a report by a Dallas TV station that quoted her as saying that Scalia had died of “myocardial infarction.” In an interview with The Washington Post, she said she meant only that his heart had stopped.
“It wasn’t a heart attack,” Guevara said. “He died of natural causes.”
Scalia’s body was moved to an El Paso funeral home early Sunday, then driven from Marfa and arrived around 2:30 a.m. at Sunset Funeral Homes, according to spokesman Chris Lujan.
Lujan said the funeral home was chosen by Scalia’s family, and at the advice of a family friend.
The El Paso County medical examiner’s office said they hadn’t received any information regarding the possibility of performing an autopsy.
As WND reported, the seemingly quick conclusion that Scalia died of “natural causes” is prompting calls for an autopsy and toxicological reports by activists and across social media platforms.
Poindexter said Scalia’s sudden death was both a personal tragedy for those at the ranch, and for the nation at large.
“All of us here saw him as a stalwart defender of our way of life in Texas, in a real sense,” he said. “It’s a great loss. Having made that statement, if it was his time to go, he was surrounded by friends, in fairly nice setting, with a full tummy too. He said he was very happy to be invited so it could have been in worse circumstances. … It’s caused all of us here to stop and think about life, how precious it is, and how it is so unexpectedly lost.”