M.E. seeks court order to exhume body of poisoned lottery winner
BY LISA DONOVAN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters January 9, 2013 9:40PM
Shabana Ansari (left) wife of Urooj Khan (center) when he received the $1 million check from the Illinois Lottery. Courtesy NBC5
Updated: February 11, 2013 7:39AM
Urooj Khan died from cyanide poisoning last summer after winning $1 million with an instant lottery ticket, and the Cook County medical examiner says the Chicago man’s body should be exhumed to determine how the toxic chemical got into his system.
“With cyanide — you can inhale it or ingest it,” Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cina told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday afternoon.
“So we’re going to do additional testing on tissues and the gastric contents,” he said.
“This may identify the route of exposure. If there’s nothing in the gastrointestinal tract, for instance, we’d lean more toward inhalation,” he said.
Initially, Khan’s death was classified as stemming from natural causes — hardening of the arteries.
But a relative called the medical examiner’s office and told the doctor handling the case to take a closer look. After some toxicology tests, Khan’s death was reclassified as a homicide: cyanide poisoning.
In multiple interviews with the Sun-Times this week, Cina wouldn’t name the relative who called the M.E.’s office.
Cina said a more extensive examination of the body is in order and he’s working with the state’s attorney’s office to get a court order allowing exhumation and autopsy.
“I don’t think it’s going to change our cause and manner of death, but it could be helpful to police and the state’s attorney’s office if and when this case goes to trial,” Cina said.
At a hearing on Friday, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will seek the order to exhume the remains, said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.
“I want it done as soon as possible — hopefully in the next couple of weeks,” Cina said.
But a source tells the Sun-Times it could take up to two weeks for a judge to issue a decision and another two weeks to exhume the body.
Khan, 46, was buried at Rosehill Cemetery on the North Side.
Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that she’s eager for the authorities to dig up the body and learn “the truth” about her husband’s July 20 death.
Ansari said she prepared what turned out to be his final meal: traditional Indian Kofta curry. Later — in the middle of the night — Khan began to feel ill, Ansari said.
Instead of lying in bed at their West Rogers Park home, he was sitting in a chair, she said.
“He got up from the chair and then he collapsed,” Ansari said. “Then I called 911.”
Khan died a short time later at an Evanston hospital.
Ansari, 32, who said they had been married for 12 years, emphasized in an interview Tuesday at one of the family’s North Side dry-cleaning stores that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.
“No, I loved him to death,” she said. “I loved him and he loved me the same way.”
Ansari said she’s cooperating with investigators, giving them access to the chemicals used in the family dry-cleaning business, which don’t include cyanide, she said.
She also said the lottery winnings are tied up in “probate.”
The probate case, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, involves one of Khan’s brothers, ImTiaz Khan, who is involved in a legal dispute with Ansari over control of Urooj Khan’s assets. The brother wants a judge to force Citibank to release his brother’s “account information and assets,” according to court filings.
ImTiaz Khan, through his attorney, claims his brother’s daughter, Ansari’s stepdaughter, might not receive “her proper share” of the estate because “Ms. Ansari may be attempting to control [her husband’s] accounts,” according to court documents.
“As administrator of the estate, ImTiaz Khan respectfully requests that he be allowed to collect the lottery check payable to Urooj Khan, unfreeze the check, and deposit the funds into an estate account in order to preserve the asset for the decedent’s daughter,” according to court documents.
ImTiaz Khan also questions in the lawsuit whether his brother was legally married to Ansari.
He contends that Ansari tried to cash the lottery check “shortly after” her husband’s death.
At the time of Khan’s death, only an external examination and standard blood tests for cocaine, opiates, carbon monoxide or ethanol were done.
Cina, who handled death investigations in Wyoming, Colorado and Florida before coming to Chicago last September, said cyanide poisonings are “pretty rare.”
“I think I’ve had one cyanide death — and a couple of exhumations,” though never the two at once, Cina said. “Cyanide poisonings are pretty rare, but they certainly do happen.”