New evidence that actress Brittany Murphy might have died from poisoning rather than a bout of pneumonia could force the investigation into her death to be reopened, according to experts who have studied her case.
Murphy’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, dropped a bombshell earlier this week when he announced that an independent analysis of Murphy’s hair had tested positive for high levels of toxic metals consistent with some types of rat poison. "The lab has shown that she was poisoned with criminal intent," Bertolotti told the Daily News. "We would like the investigation opened again to discover who did it. So as not to jeopardize the new investigation, I can't say who I suspect as of yet."
In an interview on Monday with The Huffington Post, he noted that he had long suspected that Murphy and her husband, Simon Monjack, had been poisoned, and that he had specifically requested that a lab test for heavy metals/toxins. He said that the findings did not surprise him.
"Since the autopsy narrative recorded a number of symptoms synonymous with poisoning, I requested testing for heavy metals/toxins," Bertolotti told the publication in an email. "My suspicions were confirmed. Ten heavy metals were found in abnormally high quantities (as much as nine times over the 'high' limit designated by the World Health Organization). These types of heavy metals/toxic elements are commonly found in rat poison, pesticides, insecticides, etc. Since neither Brittany nor Simon would have willingly consumed any such substances, the lab concluded that they may have been introduced by a third party with criminal intent."
Raoul Felder, a former federal prosecutor, told Hollywood Life that the evidence in the new lab results was sufficient for the coroner's office to “re-evaluate and look at their reports.”
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“Even when a perfectly healthy person goes to the hospital and there’s a bad report, they repeat the test," Raoul said. “There are always errors. You have to make sure the samples were not contaminated. The first thing to do is run the test again and let the L.A. County Medical Examiner's office look into it.”
Murphy, who was best known for roles in “Clueless” and “8 Mile,” died in December 2009 at the age of 32. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled at the time that her death was a result of acute pneumonia and severe anemia, which might have been aggravated by prescription drugs she was taking. Her death was followed five months later by that of her husband, Simon Monjack, who died under similar circumstances.
But Murphy’s parents, who are divorced, have never been satisfied with the coroner’s report. In 2011, the actress’ mother, Sharon Murphy, alleged in a lawsuit that Murphy and Monjack’s Hollywood home had been contaminated by toxic mold that could have contributed to their deaths, according to the Hollywood Reporter. But Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter countered that mold “was not a factor in their death,” although he admitted that the couple’s deaths were “unusual.”
"It is unusual to have two people die of similar circumstances with pneumonia. We've been looking at it and saying, 'Something isn't right.' I'm not saying you can't get pneumonia from mold, but we did all the tests on it -- mold did not come up in the toxicology reports," Winter told ABC News.
Mychal Wilson, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer who spoke to Hollywood Life, said that he believes the results will prompt the coroner’s office to reopen the case. “The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office will most likely have to retest on their own,” Wilson said. “Apparently, the L.A. County Coroner’s Office never tested for heavy metal poisoning.”