Sister: FBI needed in death inquiry

The sister of Columbus shooting victim Cary A. Owsley said she will turn to the FBI and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to help prove her brother was murdered.

After reviewing all of the

evidence regarding the Columbus man’s April 7, 2013, shooting death, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen R. Heimann stated in a written court order last week that he saw no reason to forward the case for further criminal investigation.

The case was not closed, however, at the request of Cheryl Jackson. Owsley’s sister asked the court that the case be kept open, giving her more time to decide what other action she may wish to take.

Those actions do not include plans to sue Bartholomew County or county officials at this time, Jackson said Friday.

“I just want to get to the truth,” said Jackson, a staff member at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Court-appointed pathologist Dr. Scott Wagner, having conducted an autopsy on Owsley, concluded: “There is no evidence

that this death is a homi-

cide, within reasonable medical certainty.”

Jackson said she still does not believe her brother committed suicide.

All along, Jackson has disputed an initial ruling by Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher that her brother intentionally shot himself in the chest at his home in Zephyr Village. With no autopsy ordered immediately after Owsley died, Jackson filed a lawsuit in Bartholomew Circuit Court to have her brother’s body exhumed for an autopsy, which was conducted March 12.

Wagner and Dr. Werner Spitz, hired by Jackson to conduct an independent autopsy, both released their autopsy findings last week. Both ruled that Owsley’s manner of death was undetermined, and both said suicide was a possible manner of death.

But the two differed on other possibilities that could be ruled out.

Wagner, a forensic pathologist from Fort Wayne, left open the possibility of an accidental shooting but ruled

out homicide.

Spitz, a Michigan-based

forensic pathologist, ruled

out an accidental shooting

but left open the possibility

of homicide.

He said personal relationships that existed among family members “opens the door to the possibility that Mr. Owsley’s death may not have been a suicide.”

Family feud suggested

“Circumstantial evidence and family relationships must be considered for a complete evaluation of a case,” Spitz wrote in his report. “In the Owsley case, a deep-seated family feud with racial overtones and other issues among family members existed for some time and became known to me following the autopsy.”

Thursday, the Michigan pathologist said he learned of those matters from conversations he had with Jackson and her attorney, Trent A. McCain of Merrillville.

In his autopsy findings, Spitz did not provide specific examples of the evidence and relationships that prompted him to conclude homicide remains a possibility.

“There were threats made, racial overtones, all kinds of feuds going on among family members,” Spitz said in a followup interview. “You had two families with people that did not especially like each other.”

When asked to specify who was feuding, as well as who was responsible for making racial overtones, Spitz refused to name an individual. But he did generally identify the feuding parties as “the kids from the two families, the young people.”

Three of those young people were questioned after the shooting, according to investigative records: Logan Owsley, the victim’s son; and two stepsons from widow Lisa Owsley’s first marriage, Joshua Janes and Dewayne Janes Jr.

However, all three were ruled out as possible suspects, according to the sheriff’s department investigation.

Sheriff’s department reports say that when Cary Owsley was shot, neither his son nor his stepsons were in the Roosevelt Street home where his body was found.

Besides two witnesses, logged Facebook entries also show Joshua Janes was preparing for a fishing trip with a friend in Columbus when Cary Owsley was shot, according to investigation documents.

Dewayne Janes Jr. had just pulled over at a convenience store while motorcycling with friends when he received word on his cellphone that his stepfather had been shot, another case report states.

Logan Owsley, who appeared to have a close relationship with his father, had just finished taking a shower after waking up at his grandmother’s house when he was informed of the shooting.

At the time of death, the stepsons’ father, Deputy Dewayne Janes Sr., was with his current wife, who went with her husband to the scene of the death investigation.

The deputy was briefly suspended for participating in an investigation involving his own family members.

An internal review found that Janes was allowed by fellow deputies to walk through the Owsley house. Janes later acknowledged that he helped carry Cary Owsley’s body to a gurney and that he touched the presumed suicide handgun found near the body.

Two other investigators, Sgt. Dean Johnson and Detective Christie Nunemaker, also were disciplined for breaking protocol.

In a July 19, 2013, statement, Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett said the investigation concluded the victim and his wife, Lisa, were alone when the 49-year-old man died.

Lisa Owsley told investigators she thought she was being accused by her deceased husband’s family of having something to do with his death, according to a statement she made during a June 12, 2013, polygraph examination.

However, the wife passed her polygraph test, indicating that she did not shoot her husband, according to the May 28 court order written by Heimann.

Almost a year after the polygraph, Lisa Owsley’s attorney believes his client is still suspected of wrongdoing by her late husband’s family.

“Well, investigators have determined my client was one of two people in the house, and the other person is dead,” attorney Mark McNeely said. “Who else could the family possibly suspect?”

During an interview last week, McNeely raised his own objections to the contents in Spitz’s autopsy findings.

“To inject the race card at this late date is totally unethical,” McNeely said. “A pathologist report is supposed to be objective, but Dr. Spitz is being subjective when he injects all the family in racial and other personal problems.”

According to Logan Owsley, his father had told him that Joshua Janes called him an offensive racist name and threatened him during an argument in a garage.

During an April 15, 2013, interview with investigators, Joshua Janes denied making racial slurs or making threats during the garage argument, which he said occurred one to two years before Cary Owsley’s death.

Sheriff’s department investigative files suggest Owsley had been suffering from chronic pain that restricted his ability to work.

Being jobless under those circumstances had an

deep negative impact on

Owsley’s sense of self-worth, his friends and immediate family told police.

A handwritten note from Owsley found after his death that resembles a will begins with the words: “Just a man without a purpose.”

Autopsy report excerpt

Excerpts from autopsy results from Dr. Werner Spitz, St. Clair Shores, Michigan

Cause of death

“Based on the findings, it is my opinion, that Mr. Owsley died as a result of internal bleeding from a single gunshot wound of the chest involving the heart. The bullet wound of entrance was located directly over the heart. The shot was fired at ‘contact range’ i.e. the muzzle of the gun was held in contact with Mr. Owsley’s body at the time it was fired.”

Identity of shooter and manner of death

“The identity of the shooter and the manner of death, i.e. suicide, homicide or accident are usually not determinable by autopsy findings alone. Circumstantial evidence and family relationships must be considered for a complete evaluation of a case. In the Owsley case, a deep seated family feud with racial overtones and other issues among family members existed for some time and became known to me following the autopsy. It is my opinion that these issues cannot be ignored in considering the manner of Mr. Owsley’s death.

“Thus, whereas the Owsley autopsy findings, the absence of evidence to suggest a struggle and the position of the body when found, do not contradict a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the personal relationships which existed among family members opens the door to the possibility that Mr. Owsley’s death may not have been a suicide. (Although I do not believe that the gun could have been fired accidentally, such as while cleaning or just handling the gun.)”

 

Excerpts from Judge Stephen R. Heimann's order

“The petitioner (Cheryl Owsley Jackson) has indicated she does not believe that her brother, Cary Owsley, committed suicide, and that there was a crime committed. At the first hearing, the court indicated that it did not know what had taken place, but that if Cary Owsley had died at the hands of another person, then a criminal investigation would need to take place. The court was interested in getting to the bottom line, regardless of that bottom line. Therefore the court indicated that it would not release the body to the petitioner because then there could be later claims regarding tampering with the body or issues regarding chain of custody of evidence. The court proposed that the court appoint an independent forensic pathologist to perform an autopsy but that it be conducted jointly with a forensic pathologist hired by the petitioner. This was agreed to by all parties and was so ordered.

“The court further discussed whether the autopsy report when filed would then become public or be kept confidential. The court indicated at the time that it believed that the autopsy report should be kept confidential if it indicated that Cary Owsley died at the hands of another. If the report found that Cary Owsley died at the hands of another, then a criminal investigation would be appropriate and it would not be proper to release the autopsy report.

“At the hearing on May 27,  2014, the court indicated that it believed that there was no reason for the autopsy report to be kept confidential as there was no reason to believe that a criminal investigation would be needed given the findings of Dr. (Scott) Wagner and the rest of the documents which the court had reviewed.”

Dr. Wagner’s autopsy report stated:

Manner of death: Undetermined

Comment: Whereas key pieces of evidence are not available for examination, namely the shirt and the entrance wound (which has been altered by postmortem preparation and decomposition), the manner of death cannot be determined within reasonable medical certainty. Gunshot particles deep in the wound suggest a contact wound,  and, therefore, suicide. The inability to confirm the range of the entrance wound would leave some doubt. Accident cannot be completely ruled out. There is no evidence this death is a homicide, within reasonable medical certainty.”

Reasons given in the judge’s order for not forwarding autopsy report for a criminal investigation:

  •  The autopsy report conclusions.
  •  The fact that while Dr. Wagner did not observe stripling at the time of the autopsy, Detective Nunemaker noted “Stripling or blackening was visible around entrance wound ….
  • The fact that Lisa Owsley was present in the home at the time Cary Owsley died from gunshot and the polygraph examination of Lisa Owsley shows she passed the polygraph test indicating that she did not shoot Cary Owsley.
  • The fact that police determined through corroborative evidence that Josh Janes was not at the Roosevelt Street residence at the time of the shooting.
  • Cary Owsley’s medical records, which indicate chronic pain, depression and expression of suicidal thoughts.
  • A handwritten note from Cary Owsley stating his last wishes and with instructions on how insurance money is to be used
  • A text message with a friend seeking to talk, with Cary Owsley saying he needed help and didn’t know what to do.
  • The friend telling Bartholomew County Sheriff detectives that Cary Owsley discussed killing himself in November and December of 2012, and that he was having a difficult time with one of his wife’s sons.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have reviewed investigative materials and have not identified facts indicating a violation of federal criminal rights statutes.
  • The coroner’s report finding the manner of death as suicide.
  • “The lack of evidence that the manner of death is anything other than suicide.”
  • “The court after review of autopsy report by the independent pathologist as well as all other records provided to the court, sees no reason for forwarding the autopsy report for criminal investigation since Dr. Wagner concludes “There is no evidence this death is a homicide, within reasonable medical certainty.”
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.