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Coroner says Chapman's death was suicide; family disputes ruling

Melissa Topey • Nov 20, 2010 at 8:07 AM

The Lucas County coroner's office ruled the Aug. 24 death of Robert Chapman a suicide, according to an autopsy report released earlier this month, and Erie County Coroner Brian Baxter said he intends to sign off on that finding.

Chapman's family, however, continues to insist he did not kill himself. The police investigation and the coroner's ruling have left too many unanswered questions, Robert's brother, James Chapman wrote in an e-mail to the Register.

Baxter initially left the investigation open as he sought answers from Dr. Maneesha Pandey, who conducted the autopsy in the Lucas County coroner's office.

"I'm going to rule it as a suicide," Baxter said Friday.

James Chapman was angered by the decision.

"Baxter's change of determination is incomprehensible," he stated in the e-mail.

Chapman said he talked with Baxter on Friday.

"When pressed, he responded he needed more information from the Lucas County coroner's office, and once received, changed his position," Chapman wrote. "If that's the case, why did he take the position of 'undetermined.'"

Baxter said he left the investigation open initially awaiting answers from Pandey. Baxter said he got some of those answers this week.

One question was how Robert Chapman, a right-handed person, could have shot himself with his left hand. Baxter said Pandey explained it appeared Robert Chapman held the gun with his left hand and steadied his grip with his right hand.

Chapman, 53, was found dead of a gunshot wound in the alley behind his home at 1015 Fourth St. The coroner's report indicates he was shot in the left temple and died within minutes.

James Chapman and other family members also questioned how police conducted the investigation from the start. The family said Robert Chapman acted as a confidential informant for police by recording license plate numbers from cars visiting the neighborhood.

Police said Robert Chapman contacted the department to report suspected drug activity but never served as a confidential informant.

The family also said a suspicious person was seen outside Chapman's home the night he died and raised other questions. Interim Sandusky Police Chief Jim Lang said he's comfortable, however, that the conclusions reached are accurate.

"From what I've read, and who I've talked to, in reading the reports, I feel they did a fine job," Lang said.

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