An attorney for Cheryl Jackson has deposited $17,490 in a Bartholomew County account to cover many of the costs of removing the body of her brother from a Columbus cemetery and trucking it 165 miles to a Fort Wayne hospital for an autopsy.
Jackson, a former newspaper and TV reporter, filed a civil lawsuit last year seeking the right to exhume the body of her 49-year-old brother, Cary Owsley, to conduct medical and forensic tests on his remains.
Jackson and her lawyers want medical experts to look for evidence that he might have been the victim of foul play.
A Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department investigation and the ruling of Coroner Larry Fisher both determined that Owsley committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a handgun last spring. No autopsy was done.
Owsley died April 7. His body has been buried at Garland Brook Cemetery for more than nine months.
Jackson maintains her brother would never have killed himself. But sheriff’s investigators said they found evidence that Owsley had contemplated suicide and talked about it in the days before he died.
Late last year, Jackson won the right via a court-sanctioned settlement with her brother’s widow, Lisa Owsley; Garland Brook Cemetery; and the coroner to dig up Cary Owsley’s remains and have an autopsy performed.
Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann has ruled that the exact timing of when Owsley’s body is removed from the grave will remain secret, but many other details linked to the autopsy procedures have emerged in court records over the past few days.
Here are some of those developments:
To pay for a court-appointed specialist at the autopsy, transport of Owsley’s body and reburial in Garland Brook Cemetery, Trent McCain, one of Jackson’s lawyers, paid the county $14,500 on Monday and delivered a second installment of $2,990 on Wednesday. Heimann and his staff gathered various cost estimates for the entire procedure before McCain sent in any money.
The court has retained Dr. Scott Wagner, a forensic pathologist from Fort Wayne, as the county’s medical expert to oversee the eventual autopsy. Jackson will have a forensic specialist, Dr. Werner Spitz of St. Clair Shores, Mich., take part as well.
His fees and expenses — which also must be paid by Jackson — are above the amount McCain deposited with the county.
Exam rooms at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne will be used for the autopsy, court filings say.
D.O. McComb & Sons, a family-owned Fort Wayne funeral home founded in 1925, will be hired to move Owsley’s body from Columbus to Fort Wayne. Garland Brook Cemetery and a casket company will also provide some services and will receive payments, according to court filings.
Heimann has ruled that Owsley’s body won’t be removed from its casket until it arrives at St. Joseph Hospital and is placed under the supervision of Wagner and Spitz.
Once the autopsy begins, a handful of additional people representing Owsley’s widow, the coroner and Jackson will be allowed to act as observers, Heimann has ruled.
Attorney Mark McNeely of Shelbyville will represent Lisa Owsley. Either McCain or co-counsel Ronald Sullivan Jr. will observe on behalf of Jackson. And the coroner will be represented by pathologist Dr. Thomas Sozio, who practices in Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky., and a medical student assistant.
None of those extra observers will take part in the actual autopsy, however.
Jackson contends the coroner’s office and Sheriff’s Department bungled their investigation last spring by losing or mishandling evidence and failing to do an autopsy right after the shooting.
Before and after filing suit, Jackson waged a Facebook campaign and organized public rallies calling for a review of evidence and an autopsy to provide justice for her late brother.
In choosing Wagner as the court’s pathologist, Heimann said he wanted someone from outside the immediate Columbus area so there could be no claims of bias about the case or the autopsy results.