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The body of shooting victim Cary Owsley will be removed from a Columbus cemetery and taken to a Fort Wayne medical complex early this year for a court-approved autopsy by as many as three forensic pathologists.
The logistics of this move will be kept secret, by a local judge’s order.
One of the experts hired to examine the body will be Dr. Scott A. Wagner of Fort Wayne, a forensic pathologist who has done training videos on autopsy best practices and written at least one death scene study guide for police investigators.
Wagner has been appointed by Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann in connection with a lawsuit by Owsley’s sister, Cheryl Jackson, who disagrees with an official ruling of suicide in her 49-year-old brother’s death. She wanted an autopsy done to look for clues of possible foul play, and she won that right via a lawsuit and subsequent settlement in Heimann’s court in late November.
Jackson’s lawyers said Friday that they also have retained a pathologist to prepare his own report on why Cary Owsley died. They’ve hired Dr. Werner Spitz of St. Clair Shores, Mich., a medical lecturer, expert witness in criminal cases and former Macomb County chief medical examiner near Detroit, attorney Trent McCain of Merrillville said.
At one point, Jackson’s lawyers — McCain and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute — had planned to hire Cyril Wecht of Baltimore, a nationally known forensic pathologist, to handle the Owsley autopsy for their client. But Wecht can’t travel to Indiana for the job, the attorneys said, and Jackson’s legal team turned to another expert they feel is equally qualified.
Wagner, Spitz and perhaps a third pathologist to be named by Cary Owsley’s widow, Lisa Owsley, are to work together to examine the dead man’s body once it is removed from its grave at Garland Brook Cemetery.
Owsley died of a gunshot wound through his chest while at home alone with his wife. His death was ruled a suicide by Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher without benefit of an autopsy before the victim was embalmed and buried.
Jackson, a former newspaper and TV reporter, argued that the lack of detailed forensic tests immediately after the body was found, plus what she described as a general bungling of the death scene by sheriff’s department investigators, might
have obscured evidence that someone else killed her brother.
How, when and by whom
After a civil lawsuit was settled six weeks ago, Heimann tackled the complex task of crafting court orders outlining how an autopsy will be done and by whom.
The most recent step was Heimann’s decision to hire Wagner, who will serve as the court’s designated expert. In the same court decision last month, Heimann said all parties have until Thursday to tell the court who’ll serve as their hand-picked pathologists, or they’d waive their rights to name an expert.
Mark McNeely of Shelbyville, Lisa Owsley’s lawyer, didn’t return a telephone message seeking comment on whether his client will hire anyone to join in the autopsy.
In choosing Wagner as the court’s own pathologist, Heimann said he wanted someone from outside the immediate Columbus area so there could be no claims of personal bias about the case.
Heimann also said he researched medical facilities that could handle an autopsy nearly a year after someone had died and learned there are relatively few places properly equipped in Indiana. His court ruling makes clear that Owsley’s body cannot leave the state while further tests are being done.
“Since (Owsley) has been embalmed and deceased a significant period of time ... the facility needs very good X-ray equipment” among other things, the judge noted in his latest court order.
Many details of exactly when Owsley’s body will be dug up in the new year — and how it will be transported to Fort Wayne — are still unresolved. The judge also didn’t provide the name of the facility where the autopsy will be performed and videotaped for the court record.
Heimann has previously ruled that the dates and times Owsley’s body is exhumed, moved and later reburied won’t be divulged to the public to avoid a crush of onlookers in a case that has drawn national media attention. The videotapes of the autopsy also won’t be made public, the judge has said.
For most of this year, Jackson has waged an Internet and Facebook campaign calling for justice in her brother’s case and blaming the coroner and the Sheriff’s Department for mishandling and losing key evidence.
Three sheriff’s deputies — Sgt. Dean Johnson, then-Detective Christie Nunemaker and Deputy E. DeWayne Janes, an ex-husband of Owsley’s widow, Lisa — were disciplined by Sheriff Mark Gorbett for not securing the death scene properly and other critical missteps.
A sheriff’s internal review found that Janes was allowed to touch a handgun found at the death scene and help place Owsley’s corpse on a gurney to move it to the hospital.
As someone with ties to the family, Janes had a conflict of interest and shouldn’t have been allowed to take part, the sheriff said in July. The investigation also uncovered that the handgun, a Walther PPK .380 caliber, had been a gift to Lisa Owsley from Janes after serving in the military in Germany, and the deputy recognized it at the death scene.
More details to come
The judge asked Wagner in the court order to estimate how much he’ll charge for his services and the use of a Fort Wayne medical facility. By Monday, Wagner and any other forensic pathologists hired by Owsley’s surviving spouse or Jackson must jointly submit a report to the court outlining how they plan to work together in the autopsy chamber.
The protocols also must detail how Owsley’s body will be disinterred, how it will be shipped to Fort Wayne and how it will be buried again when tests are completed, the court order says.
“If there is no agreement (by Monday), there will be another court hearing,” the judge said in his written ruling.
“I do not anticipate any issues with the parties’ experts constructing the protocol (for sharing autopsy duties). I appreciate that
Jan. 6 is an ambitious date; but, obviously, Judge Heimann knows how important this disinterment is and wants to keep things moving,” McCain said last week. McCain said Heimann’s choice as the court’s pathologist, Dr. Wagner, seems to have a solid reputation.
“We have confidence in the court’s selection,” McCain said.
Separately, the coroner’s office was told to provide the court “under seal” with any records, photos, lab work or transcripts of interviews done in connection with Owsley’s death. Heimann said the material will be shown to the pathologists charged with examining Owsley’s body to help them do their job.
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