PHOTOS: Authorities exhume lottery winner`s body - New York News

PHOTOS: Authorities exhume lottery winner`s body

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

It took just under 90 minutes for the crew at a North Side cemetery to exhume the remains of Urooj Khan, who died from cyanide poisoning six months ago — after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot.

With several of Khan's family members, investigators with the Chicago Police, and Cook County Medical Examiner's office looking on, the coffin was removed from a grave in the Muslim section of Rosehill Cemetery Friday.

"It's very difficult, because even going through this it's very difficult," Khan's sister said. "I was out there today, and to see the whole exhuming, it wasn't easy."

An imam was present to offer prayers during the exhumation. Crews began working in earnest about 7:30 a.m., with a backhoe operator and staffers shoveling the cold earth to first get to the burial vault, then the coffin.

A green tent was erected over the grave site at one point to allow the coffin to be raised from the ground out of view of throngs of media, who were not allowed to get close to the scene. By 8:50 a.m., the coffin was loaded into a hearse.

Minutes later, a procession including marked Chicago police squads — blue emergency lights running — exited the cemetery for the medical examiner's office.

Law enforcement on hand for the exhumation included three Chicago Police evidence technicians — including one who videotaped the exhumation and another who took still photos — along with at least one detective. The deputy chief investigator, a staff investigator from the medical examiner's office and the doctor who conducted the original exam and the follow-up autopsy also observed the exhumation.

Khan's body was in an advanced state of decomposition, but doctors were able to take a series of tissue samples and collected contents from his stomach. Tests results expected in several weeks may provide the answers that his family and police are searching for.

"We've already determined it's a homicide, in the death certificate and I didn't see anything today to change that," Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Cina says.

Toxicology tests will be done next to try and determine how Khan ingested the cyanide that killed him.

"I can't really predict how the results are going to turn out," Cina explains. "Cyanide over the post-mortem period actually can essentially evaporate and leave the tissues so it is possible that cyanide that was in the tissues is no longer in the tissues after several months."

Khan's death came on the heels of winning a $1 million state lottery jackpot. Initially, his death was ruled from natural causes: hardening of the arteries. Days later, a relative contacted the medical examiner's office and said the doctor who handled the case should take a closer look.

Only an external exam was conducted in July because there was nothing to indicate his death was suspicious, Cina told the Sun-Times.

Further toxicology tests revealed in September — weeks after he was buried — that the 46-year-old Khan had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. In November, his death was reclassified a homicide by the medical examiner's office.

The medical examiner denied that his office initially missed the tell-tale smell of almonds that cyanide gives off.

"The cyanide smell is best detected from gastric contents or from blood, being that no autopsy was performed initially and there wasn't exposure to a lot of smells, it's not something you just smell walking by a body that has cyanide inside of it," Cina said.

In recent weeks, Khan's widow Shabana Ansari, told the Sun-Times she fully supported the exhumation. She said she hopes the follow-up exam will reveal "the truth."

"I really want them to go for it because I really want to know what exactly happened," Ansari said. "I wish God will reveal the truth — the sooner the better."

The night before his death the family sat down for a meal in their West Rogers Park home. Ansari said she had prepared a traditional Indian kofta — a meal that would be his last. She denies having anything to do with her husband's death.

"No, I loved him to death," the 32-year-old said. "I loved him and he loved me the same way."

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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