A judge Friday granted prosecutors permission to exhume the body of a Chicago lottery winner who was fatally poisoned with cyanide just as he was about to collect his $425,000 payout.
Authorities want to do a fuller autopsy on Urooj Khan to confirm earlier but less-thorough toxicology tests, as well as to rule out that natural causes contributed to the 46-year-old's sudden death, according to documents filed with the motion for an exhumation. Facing dozens of reporters and TV cameras crowded around her outside court after a judge signed off on the request, Khan's sister said the thought of her brother's body being unearthed and reexamined was disturbing -- but that the procedure was essential.
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"It's very hard," a tearful Meraj Khan said. "I wanted my brother to rest in peace, but we have to have justice served." She added about the exhumation, "It has to be done."
Khan's July 20 death was initially ruled a result of natural causes. But a relative asked authorities to look deeper, triggering more exams that led to the conclusion in November that the businessman was intentionally poisoned.
Cook County's medical examiner's office didn't initially perform a comprehensive autopsy because there were no outward signs of physical trauma and it was thought he died of a cardiac arrest, the state's attorney's motion said.
Khan's sister told reporters Friday that she had received a call from her brother's phone number at 4 a.m. on the day he eventually died. The person on the line was so distraught that she isn't sure who it was.
"I couldn't understand what was happening," she said. "I heard screaming. That's all."
A specific date wasn't immediately set for the exhumation, though medical examiner spokeswoman Mary Paleologos said it should occur by the end of next week. The autopsy would most likely be done the next day, and results would be released two weeks later, she said.
The man's wife, Shabana Ansari, has said she can't believe her husband had any enemies, and she said that she was not involved in his death.
One of Ansari's lawyers said before Friday's hearing that she doesn't oppose the exhumation. But Al-Haroon Husain said she wants to ensure Islamic religious practices are adhered to, though he didn't elaborate.
Al-Haroon Husain said he would also ask authorities to carefully document the exhumation and autopsy, including by taking photographs, to ensure the procedures are carried out properly.
Police have released few details about the investigation; they have not announced any suspects or a possible motive or said which relative asked for the more thorough inquiry.
Meraj Khan and her husband, Mohammed Zaman, said neither could fathom that someone might have killed Urooj Khan.
Zaman said he wasn't sure if the lottery winnings might have played a role and he noted that his brother-in-law was already comparatively wealthy before.
Khan's reaction to winning the lottery, his sister said, was that he'd be even better positioned to help charities, including orphanages.
"It's hard to believe," she said, pausing. "Who would do this to him?" She added, "He was a very, very good man."