The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia shocked the nation, especially when hearing the distinguished Justice appeared to be in good spirits, “entertaining,” and active the night before. What is even more shocking to some is the post death procedures. It has led to many speculating foul play was involved despite what those at the scene claim. A primary area of concern centered on reports that Justice of the Peace Cinderela Guevara never examined Scalia’s body, but pronounced Scalia dead over the phone. As a friend likes to say, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
From a nursing perspective, there is quite a bit wrong with this picture. Let’s start from the beginning. In looking at the circumstances surrounding the finding of Justice Scalia dead, there will be a look at Texas Statutes and many rhetorical questions will be posed because it is being evaluated through a nurse’s eye based on medical perspective.
On Friday evening, Justice Scalia spent the evening with a private group. No one noticed any health related issues compromising Justice Scalia. The next day, John Poindexter found Justice Scalia in his bed, a pillow over his head without any disturbance of the bed sheets or pajamas. Poindexter used the description “looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.” Poindexter determined resuscitation would be futile since Justice Scalia was cold and had no pulse.
Where did John Poindexter receive his medical degree to determine whether or not resuscitation efforts would be futile? Poindexter did not describe Scalia as pale with blue discoloration (cyanosis) of the lips, eye orbits or fingernails. Neither did Poindexter take Justice Scalia’s temperature via the rectum or liver (common in forensic investigations). A person’s skin can be cold yet still be in a state to revive using resuscitation efforts. Did Scalia have a blocked airway from an object lodged in the throat? No one knew how long Scalia had been dead. The rule of thumb or what any reasonably prudent individual would do is call emergency services, begin resuscitation efforts and continue until arrival of EMS to assume the duty. Considering the remoteness of the resort, Poindexter should know the proper procedure from a first responder standpoint and first aid perspective.
How was the pillow positioned over Scalia’s head? No one has described this very important detail. Neither has anyone indicated the position in which they found Scalia’s body. If Scalia was lying on his side with the pillow under his head but folded over his ear or another pillow over the ear, it would possibly indicate drowning out noise or getting in a comfortable position. However, if Scalia was lying on his back with a pillow over his head and one under his head, it could suggest foul play or that Scalia was shielding his face and eyes from some outside interference.
Finding Scalia in a pristine bed and unwrinkled pajamas is akin to the “magic bullet” theory on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as well as hint to the pristine bullet found on the gurney with JFK. Take the test. Put on your pajamas then crawl into bed. Now, make sure your pajamas aren’t wrinkled. Smooth out the areas you “damaged” as you position yourself in a lying position. Regardless of how much you try, evidence of your efforts remain. It is almost as if Scalia were lifted by levitation and placed on the bed after dying.
It’s no wonder many people are asking questions. It is these unusual circumstances and actions by the individuals involved that create suspicion.
It has been reported the Sheriff called a judge to inform the judge of Scalia’s death in order that a determination on autopsy be made.
The question is, “Who determined that Justice Scalia was dead?”
Under Texas State Statute, Health and Safety Code, Title 8: Death and Disposition of the Body; Subsection A: Death; Chapter 671, Determination of Death and Autopsy Reports, “A person is dead when, according to ordinary standards of medical practice, there is irreversible cessation of a person’s spontaneous respiratory and circulatory function.” This chapter acknowledges an unspoken fact that physicians have authority to declare someone as deceased in Section 671.001 (b). Additionally, Section 671.001 (d) declares a registered nurse or physician assistant may determine and pronounce death in situations other than those described in subsection (b).
So, who determined Justice Scalia was dead? Various reports stated Presidio County Judge/Justice of the Peace Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead over the phone. It has been in various reports and comments by many on various articles written that judges in Texas may pronounce death. However, the Texas State Statute cited would appear to contradict this. In reviewing Texas Statutes concerning judges pronouncing death, hours of review did not produce a statute. However, The Texas Association of Counties website provided descriptions of the duties of county officials through the “2014 Guide to Texas Laws for County Officials.” The duties of judges began on page 63 and justice of the peace duties on page 123. In reading the duties, no where did the document list a duty of a judge or justice of the peace to “determine” or “pronounce” death. As previously indicated, Texas Statute on Determination of Death outlined who may determine an individual dead, according to ordinary standards of medical practice.
Guevara should state exactly how she can determine Scalia died from “natural causes” without being a medical professional, conducting an investigation or inquest, and not seeing the body.
While I did not find the statute on justices of the peace pronouncing death, it is assumed it is within their authority despite not being listed in the Texas Statute on determination of death or listed in the guide as a duty of the justice of the peace or judge. It is an important duty to be excluded from the guide for county officials. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 49: “Inquests Upon Dead Bodies” Art. 49.04 states, “A justice of the peace shall conduct an inquest into the death of a person who dies in the county served by the justice if: … (3) the body or body part of a person is found, the cause or circumstances of death are unknown, and: (A) the person is identified.” There is a distinct difference in determining death and determining the need for an inquest — the two are not the same or even similar.
Now, should an inquest into the death of Justice Scalia have occurred? His body was found in his room with the circumstance surrounding his death unknown and his identity verified. So, the answer is “yes.” Let’s go further in explanation.
While Justice Scalia had “health issues,” many health issues are treatable, manageable and non-terminal. There has been no indication Justice Scalia had a terminal illness or an illness one would presume to cause death. With that said, there are only two causes of death — respiratory failure or cardiac failure. No breath, no life; no heartbeat, no life. Now, which one did Scalia suffer? It is unknown which one came first meaning whatever caused his respiratory or cardiac failure or both is unknown. His body was found without anyone in witness to the circumstances surrounding his death, which means no one knows when exactly Scalia suffered the mechanism (s) to cause death or what that mechanism (s) is or are.
Is any of this indicative of foul play? It is plausible that it is. With that said, why was an inquest not done to determine what happened? Granted, the family did not want an autopsy, which is their right; however, blood samples, tissue samples, and other evidentiary samples taken discreetly during a forensic investigation could provide further answers. In the extended education obtained to specialize in forensic nursing, cases such as this were summed up as “It’s homicide until it’s not.”
All of this is quite interesting as this was not treated as a crime until proven it was not. Justice Scalia has no voice to speak for him as to what happened. Those in Texas involved in discovery and afterward silenced his voice by not pursuing an investigation or an inquest according to Texas Statute. All the important people were notified. The news organizations ran the story, claiming a Judge/Justice of the Peace declared Justice Scalia as dead. Still, who exactly determined Justice Scalia to be dead, according to ordinary standards of medical practice? It would appear Texas justice excluded the most important individual in this situation.
The public will never know the answers since no investigation was done, no inquest performed, and his body embalmed within 24 hours. Neither will his family. Justice Scalia’s death in Texas is the 21st century version of the 20th century assassination of President John F. Kennedy.