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Lottery winner who died from cyanide poisoning to be exhumed

Chicago police are investigating death Urooj Khan $1 millilottery winner as homicide. | Illinois Lottery photo

Chicago police are investigating the death of Urooj Khan, a $1 million lottery winner, as a homicide. | Illinois Lottery photo

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Updated: February 13, 2013 6:07AM

In a murder mystery in which the details have become murkier by the day, one thing is now clear: Poisoned lottery winner Urooj Khan’s body will be dug up.

In the briefest of hearings Friday, Cook County Judge Susan Coleman said she saw no reason why Khan’s exhumation, which the prosecutor’s office had requested, shouldn’t go ahead. There were no objections from lawyers from various family members and Khan’s estate.

“The court finds it to be reasonable and sufficient,” Coleman said.

Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, wasn’t in court, but several of his relatives were, including his sister, a brother and a brother-in-law.

“I’m glad — we’re glad,” said the brother-in-law, Mohammed Zaman. “Finally we’ll know what happened. I want [investigators] to go to the bottom. They are professionals; they know what to do.”

Meraj Khan, Zaman’s wife and Urooj Khan’s sister, stood nearby — in tears — recalling the “screaming” phone call from Khan’s house she got in the middle of the night — that July night when, according to investigators, Khan succumbed to cyanide poisoning.

“I couldn’t understand — it was just screaming,” Meraj Khan told reporters outside Coleman’s courtroom. It’s unclear who made that phone call — as is how the cyanide got into Khan’s body. Among other things, investigators with the Cook County medical examiner’s office plan to do tissue testing and check Khan’s gastric tract. And they plan to do it soon.

“As Mr. Khan was buried without being embalmed, it is important that Mr. Khan’s body be exhumed as expeditiously as possible,” Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina wrote in the request to have Khan’s body exhumed.

A spokeswoman for Cina’s office said Friday that plans are in the works to complete the autopsy by Jan. 18.

Initially, Khan’s July 20 death was classified as stemming from natural causes — hardening of the arteries. At the time, because the death didn’t look suspicious, an external exam — but not an autopsy — was done, Cina has said. 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.

Khan’s death came less than a month after he won $1 million with an instant lottery ticket. No suspects have been named in the case.

As media reports surfaced this week about Khan’s death, the poison and the lottery ticket, dozens of reporters have descended upon Khan’s West Rogers Park home and his nearby dry-cleaning businesses. Khan’s widow and her father, who lived with the couple, have denied in multiple interviews that they had anything to do with Khan’s death. Shabana Ansari, patiently answering reporters’ questions while trying to run her husband’s businesses, has said she adored Khan and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to kill him. She’s also said she prepared her husband’s dinner — a curry dish — the evening before he died.

Khan’s relatives have painted a different picture, claiming the lottery winner had a strained relationship with his father-in-law and that Ansari didn’t get along with her step-daughter, Khan’s biological daughter from a previous marriage.

The two sides are now in the midst of a court fight over Khan’s assets.

Cook County Court documents made public Friday show that Khan’s previous wife, who now lives in Indiana, sought at least two orders of protection during their divorce in 1998. In one request to a judge, Maria Khan states that her husband “repeatedly threatened to kill the petitioner” and their daughter if she filed for divorce.

Contributing: Lisa Donovan

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