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Lisa Owsley, the widow of a Columbus man whose April 7 shooting death was ruled a suicide, has filed paperwork in Bartholomew County Circuit Court to prevent his body from being exhumed.
Her court filing argues that Cary Owsley’s sister has no legal right to dig up his body to learn more about how and why the 49-year-old died.
A pretrial court hearing on the matter is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Oct. 2 in Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann’s courtroom.
Cheryl Jackson, who has criticized the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department death investigation and County Coroner Larry Fisher’s suicide ruling, filed a lawsuit two months ago seeking a court order to have Cary Owsley’s body exhumed from Garland Brook Cemetery in Columbus and move it out of state for a private autopsy.
Jackson contends her brother would have never committed suicide.
She has campaigned via Facebook, by holding rallies at her brother’s grave site — including one there at 10:30 a.m. today — and in the national media calling for a review of evidence and forensic testing of his body.
Fisher, meanwhile, who stands by his suicide ruling in Cary Owsley’s death, has won court permission to intervene in the case via county attorney J. Grant Tucker.
“I just want to protect the county’s best interest,” Fisher said Friday. “I don’t see any reason to exhume the body; it’s not going to change anything.”
Jackson said Friday that she plans to continue putting pressure on the coroner and other county officials in the hope she can learn more about her brother’s death.
“What is Fisher hiding? What is the Bartholomew County sheriff and his deputies hiding? If officials are so sure, so certain, that their conclusions are correct, then let us see; prove it, so that everyone can move on,” she said.
Jackson also criticized Lisa Owsley for not agreeing to let her husband’s body be exhumed. Under state law, the deceased person’s surviving spouse has the right to decide such matters over and above the wishes of more distant relatives.
“If I was Lisa, I would say, ‘Exhume the body to prove what they’d been saying was the absolute fact so Cheryl Jackson has to go away,’” she said.
Also, Jackson said she has hired new attorneys to handle her legal battle, including civil rights attorney Trent A. McCain of Merrillville, who was an associate of O.J. Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran.
Jackson said her defense team believes there were “egregious errors both criminally and civilly” in her brother’s case. “It’s six months later and Cary’s mother, me and his sons (want) a chance to find peace, and that is what the officials in Columbus have kept us from,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lisa Owsley’s lawyer said in a court filing that his client didn’t give Jackson or Cary Owsley’s mother the right to exhume the 49-year-old’s body from the grave at any point, even though Lisa did sign a waiver allowing them to handle funeral arrangements after the shooting.
“The waiver didn’t give Cary Owsley’s mother or sister the right to seek the recovery, possession, relocation or disinterment” of the body, said attorney Mark McNeely of Shelbyville.
McNeely also argued in his legal memo that Jackson’s contention that her brother died under suspicious circumstances is based on uncorroborated statements, and isn’t a basis upon which to disinter Cary Owsley’s body.
If the court does end up ordering Cary Owsley’s body exhumed, however, McNeely said Lisa Owsley “requests the right to have her own pathologist present” at any private autopsy.
She also asked the court to keep the body in Indiana and under the jurisdiction of the state’s courts.
Jackson vows to fight
Jackson said Friday her intention is still to take her brother’s body to an out-of-state expert to conduct a thorough autopsy.
She said Fisher failed in his duty as coroner when he didn’t have one done originally.
Jackson, a former newspaper and TV reporter, also contends that the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation of the death was tainted by critical missteps, lost evidence and shoddy police work that led to the suspension of three deputies.
Suspended officers included Deputy E. DeWayne Janes, the ex-husband of Lisa Owsley, who arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting incident and became involved in handling the dead man’s body.
Janes was allowed by his fellow deputies to walk through the death scene, and he later acknowledged in an internal Sheriff’s Department investigation that he helped carry Cary Owsley’s body to a gurney inside the house, and that he touched the presumed suicide handgun found near the body.
Sheriff Mark Gorbett said Janes’ involvement — and errors in judgment by two other Sheriff’s Department veterans on the scene — crossed the line and amounted to violations of departmental policies and procedures.
For her part, Jackson said she plans to fight Lisa Owsley over having any control of Cary’s body.
If a Bartholomew County court offers no relief, Jackson said she will appeal to a higher court.
“We believe we can win in a fair court, and if that doesn’t happen in Bartholomew County, it won’t stop us,” she said.
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