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One of the motivations in a lawsuit filed by a former Columbus woman last week is that the Bartholomew County coroner did not order tests to determine the existence of gunshot residue on the body of her brother, who died of a gunshot wound.
Cheryl Jackson filed her lawsuit in Bartholomew Circuit Court seeking to exhume the body of her brother, Cary Owsley, from Garland Brook Cemetery in Columbus and further investigate his death. Jackson contends there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the April 7 death investigation, maintaining that the sheriff’s department probe was tainted by critical missteps and oversights.
Her lawsuit also notes that an autopsy on the Columbus man’s body was not conducted and photographs were not taken.
Her goal, according to the lawsuit, is to learn with greater certainty whether her brother did commit suicide, as county Coroner Larry Fisher ruled. She is seeking authority to exhume his body and pay for an outside expert to do more forensic tests and conduct an autopsy.
Sheriff’s department investigative files, which include a statement from Deputy E. DeWayne Janes Sr., show the deputy walked through Owsley’s house, touched or helped carry a body bag carrying Owsley’s corpse and handled the .380-caliber handgun that investigators pinpointed as the death weapon.
That was deemed inappropriate by Sheriff Mark Gorbett because Cary Owsley’s wife, Lisa, who was in the home at the time of the shooting, previously was married to Janes.
Gorbett took disciplinary action July 26 against Janes, Detective Christie Nunemaker and Sgt. Dean Johnson for mistakes they made in the Owsley death investigation.
Fisher also reviewed the shooting death three years earlier of Keri Janes, the deputy’s daughter-in-law, ruling it a
In that case, gun-residue tests were taken. The coroner’s report says Keri Janes’ body tested positive for gunpowder residue on both her left and right hands.
No such tests were deemed necessary in Cary Owsley’s shooting death, Fisher said. He said residue tests are done “only in cases we suspect or if the body has already been moved from the scene. It’s to make sure, yes, indeed they did hold the weapon,” he said.
Fisher said such residue tests weren’t needed on Cary Owsley “because I saw it all first-hand, what it looked like.”
David Hunt, the Montgomery County coroner and a board member with the Indiana Coroners Association, said gunpowder residue tests often don’t provide conclusive evidence of who pulled the trigger in a death-by-gunshot case. Hunt is a part-time coroner in his county and also owns a funeral home in Crawfordsville. He conducts death investigations and contracts with a pathologist to do autopsies.
“Anyone in the room is going to test positive for gunshot residue,” Hunt said. “All it shows is that the person was in the vicinity. It doesn’t show that the person shot themselves, just that they were in the vicinity of where a gun was fired.”
But crime scene expert Gary Rini, a forensic specialist and consultant based in Cleveland, Ohio, said microscopic analysis of gunshot residue and the density of particulate matter on a subject can be helpful.
Rini said if more than one person were in the room when a gun goes off, particulate matter would be propelled from the weapon and can show up on the shooter and anyone in fairly close proximity.
“It’s all about the degree and density of the particulate matter on the individual who shot the weapon vs. someone in the vicinity,” he said. “Yes, you can say it’s not totally reliable. But the majority of it is going to be on the shooter’s hands. It is a matter of interpretation of the results.”
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