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Forensic pathologist: Autopsy should have been performed in apparent suicide

Emil Whitis • Nov 7, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Sandusky County coroner John Wukie continues to dodge phone calls regarding a death he ruled a suicide almost 10 months ago.

“I handed him your message yesterday,” his secretary told a Register reporter Thursday. “I don’t know what he did with it.”

Meanwhile, world-renowned forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht tore apart Wukie and Sandusky County deputies’ handling of Jacob Limberios’ death.

Wecht, who recently examined Limberios’ body, said authorities failed to follow even the most elementary rules of death investigation.

On March 2, deputies raced to the 100 block of County Road 294 in York Township after getting a report of a man who’d been shot. Inside the home they found several spent shell casings, several empty beer bottles, three young adults and one dead Castalia man lying on the living room floor in a pool of blood.

A .357 Magnum revolver was at his feet.

The dead man, identified as Limberios, 19, sustained a single gunshot wound to the left side of his head.

The three witnesses, Limberios’ friends, said they’d each fired the gun earlier in the night in the backyard. The group later went inside the house, where Limberios picked up the gun and put it to his head while talking on his phone, the friends told deputies. Then he pulled the trigger, they said.

Deputies arrived at the scene about 15 minutes later. They took pictures and talked to witnesses. Less than three hours later, Wukie determined Limberios had shot himself on purpose.

Wukie’s report reads: “Reason for death: Suicide. Gunshot wound to head. Deceased shot self in head, may not have realized the gun was loaded.”

Wecht called Wukie’s ruling “astonishing.”  

“That’s a contradiction ... it’s an oxymoron,” Wecht said. “It shows absolute ignorance to forensic science and arrogance in not seeking to correct it.”

Wecht said it is impossible to rule a death a suicide if you can’t prove the dead person intended to kill himself.

But for Wukie and Sandusky County deputies, it was case closed.

Sometime after midnight March 3, Limberios’ body was released to Ransom Funeral Home employees. It was embalmed later that same day.

The final deputy left the crime scene at about 3 a.m.  

But the investigators also left behind the bullet that killed Limberios. The bullet had lodged somewhere in the ceiling after exiting Limberios’ head, according to attorney Daniel McGookey, who the Limberios family hired to look into the investigation.  

Just days after the shooting, the Limberios family began to plead with Sandusky County officials to conduct an autopsy.

No one would listen to the family, and no one would return their calls, McGookey said.  

Wecht said the investigation was deplorable.  

“Jesus Christ, even in the most remote county in America, this is a case that would require an autopsy — it’s a no-brainer, not even a close call,” Wecht said. “It’s a case that requires extensive investigation by homicide detectives. It requires the collection of all evidence, including that bullet that’s still lodged in the roof.”

The known facts surrounding the case demand a serious investigation, Wecht said.

And at the very bottom of it all is the fact that there were four people shooting a gun, and one ended up dead.

“If this case doesn’t catch your interest as a coroner, I don’t know what would,” Wecht said. “What did you run for coroner for? Why not be a garbage collector? Why not be a postal worker?

“This is truly is deplorable.”

Wecht directed his indignation at Sandusky County deputies, too.

He said at the very least, the hands of the witnesses and the victim should have been swabbed for gunpowder residue.

The victim’s jacket should have been checked for residue as well, and the bullet should have been removed from the roof and checked to make sure it matched the gun, Wecht said.

“What 10th-grade kid in America wouldn’t say, ‘Let’s see if (the bullet lodged in the ceiling) matches up with the gun?’” Wecht said. “Even a 6-year old boy would say, ‘Let’s see if there were fingerprints left on the gun.’”

“These are basic things,” he said. “There’s nothing special about what I’m saying.”  

After months of pleading, the Limberios family turned to McGookey to help them find answers.

But McGookey didn’t fare much better in getting county officials to help.  

On Feb. 25, after getting the OK from Margaretta Township trustees and obtaining a court order, workers exhumed Limberios’ body and sent it to Wecht for an autopsy.

Wecht determined the bullet entered Limberios’ head behind the left ear. It appeared the handgun was held either lightly against the head, or up to half an inch away from the head when it was fired.  

Strangely, Limberios was right-handed, and the entry wound was on the left, Wecht said, although that proves nothing.

“At this point, with the information I have, it is not possible for me to make a ruling,” Wecht said. “Whether he shot himself or somebody else did, an autopsy should have been ordered.”   

Wukie has not returned multiple messages left at his workplace and home, including three messages Friday, a message Wednesday and another message Thursday.

Overmyer did not return messages left at his office last week.  


Cyril Wecht

Dr. Cyril Wecht holds a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from the University of Maryland.  He has edited the book on forensic science, titled “Forensic Sciences.” and he was the expert who analyzed the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, along with the death of Elvis Presley, the O.J. Simpson case and the JonBenet Ramsey cases. Wecht has personally performed more than 17,000 autopsies, as well as supervising, reviewing or consulting on more than 30,000 post-death examinations. His work has appeared on numerous national television shows and in publications.

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