‘It Wasn’t a Heart Attack’: Confusion and Conflicting Reports Surround Justice Scalia’s Death

It’s been widely reported that a local Texas official said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack, but that official — a county judge — told the Washington Post Sunday that report isn’t true.

FILE - In this March 8, 2012 file phoo, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. Scalia says the nation's highest court was wrong 70 years ago to uphold the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. But he told students and faculty at the University of Hawaii's law school on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, the case came during a time of panic about the war. Scalia says he wouldn't be surprised if the court ruled similarly during another conflict. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File) AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File
In this March 8, 2012 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara refuted a Dallas TV station’s report quoting her as saying Scalia died of “myocardial infarction” — in an interview with the Post, she said she had meant only that his heart had stopped.

“It wasn’t a heart attack,” Guevara told the Post. “He died of natural causes.”

What’s more, following Scalia’s death at the remote Cibolo Creek Ranch near the Mexican border, authorities said it took hours to find a justice of the peace. When Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez finally tracked down Guevara on her cellphone Saturday afternoon, she told WFAA-TV she was shopping.

“He says, ‘Judge, I’m at Cibolo Creek Ranch, and a Supreme Court Justice has just passed away, and I need someone here immediately. Both justices of the peace are out of town at this time,’” Guevara recalled to the station.

Image source: WFAA-TV
Image source: WFAA-TV

“I said, ‘Sheriff, what did you say? Which Supreme Court Justice died at Cibolo Creek Ranch?’ And the phone went dead, because our connection was very bad,” she told WFAA, which added that cell service is inconsistent in the area and there’s no service at the ranch.

“He called me back and he gave me a few more sentences until it broke up again,” Guevara told the station. “And that’s how the conversation went for 20 minutes.” Finally she recognized Scalia’s name.

Guevara acknowledged to the Post that she pronounced Scalia dead over the phone on Saturday without seeing his body. She told WFAA she had planned to head to the ranch but that a U.S. Marshal told her over the phone, “It’s not necessary for you to come, judge. If you’re asking for an autopsy, that’s what we need to clarify.”

Guevara told the station before deciding that she wanted details of Scalia’s death.

“As part of my investigation one of the things I did ask the sheriff and the U.S. Marshal: ‘Were there any signs of foul play? And they said, ‘Absolutely not.’ At that time, I still wanted to be careful and asked them if [Scalia’s] physician would call me,” Guevara told WFAA.

When Scalia’s doctor called Guevara at 8 p.m. Saturday, she told the station that the doctor told her Scalia “had just visited on Wednesday and Thursday, and [the doctor] had done an MRI, then I felt comfortable what I knew was going on with him physically.” She added to WFAA that Scalia also suffered from several chronic ailments.

“He was having health issues,” Guevara told the Post, adding that she’s waiting for a statement from Scalia’s doctor to add to his death certificate when it’s issued later this week.

The Post reported that another justice of the peace was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time — and that she would have made a different decision. “If it had been me … I would want to know,” Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Texas, told the paper in a Sunday interview.

But Guevara cited Texas laws that permit a justice of the peace to declare someone dead without seeing the body, the Post said.

When Scalia didn’t show up for breakfast Saturday morning, John Poindexter — a Houston businessman who owns the ranch and invited Scalia and others — told the Post that he and another person knocked on Scalia’s suite door. After getting no answer, they entered.

“Everything was in perfect order,” Poindexter told the Post. “He was in his pajamas, peacefully, in bed.”

The U.S. Marshals Service provides security for Supreme Court justices and told the Post that Scalia had declined a security detail at the ranch. “Deputy U.S. Marshals from the Western District of Texas responded immediately upon notification of Justice Scalia’s passing,” the U.S. Marshals Service statement said, according to the paper.

Scalia’s body was taken to Sunset Funeral Homes in El Paso — about 3 1/2 hours away — on Saturday evening. The procession got there about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, the Post said, citing funeral home manager Chris Lujan. Then about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Scalia’s family declined to have an autopsy performed, Lujan added to the paper.

Lujan told WFAA Scalia’s body was embalmed, which is required by Texas law before remains can be taken out of state. Lujan told the Associated Press that Scalia’s body was taken to an El Paso airport late Sunday afternoon and will be flown to Virginia.

WFAA reported that Guevara told the station Sunday that Scalia’s heart stopped beating during his sleep. But WFAA added that she told the station hours earlier that myocardial infarction — or a heart attack — would likely be the cause of death listed.

This story has been updated.

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