The Riverside County coroner's office has determined that the death of an 83-year-old woman, whose head was severed and frozen in hopes that future science would reanimate her with a new body, was a "homicide," resulting from a lethal dose of a barbiturate.
Calling the death of Dora Kent the "killing of a human being by another," a coroner's official said late Tuesday that the case has been turned over to the district attorney's office for further investigation and possible criminal charges.
"The mode of death is classified as homicide with the administration of medicinal drugs," said Dan Cupido, supervising investigator for the coroner's office. "They expedited Mrs. Kent's death."
As a result of the finding, which came after weeks of toxicological tests of tissue from Kent's headless body, coroner's deputies filed a new death certificate listing the cause of death as pneumonia due to severe arteriosclerotic heart disease and "other contributing conditions."
Cupido said the contributing factors consisted of a lethal injection of a barbiturate.
A spokesman for Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the Riverside cryonics lab where Kent's head was severed and frozen, acknowledged Tuesday night that a barbiturate had been injected into Kent's body.
But the spokesman, Carlos Mondragon, said the drug Nembutol was given to Kent after Alcor representatives had determined that she was dead. He said the drug was used to preserve brain cells and would have numbed any pain in the unlikely event that Kent "had some level of consciousness."
"We intend to challenge the validity of that death certificate," Mondragon said, calling the coroner's allegation of homicide "utterly illogical."
According to documents filed in Riverside Superior Court by Alcor attorneys, Dr. Steve Harris, an internist on the staff of UCLA Medical Center who was Kent's "attending physician," determined on Dec. 9, 1987, that his patient was gravely ill and near death at an unnamed convalescent home in the Riverside area.
Based on that conclusion, Kent's son, Saul Kent, moved his mother from the home to the Alcor lab.
In an affidavit filed with the court, Saul Kent, a longtime believer in cryonics and a financial supporter of Alcor, said his mother had years earlier expressed a desire to be preserved by cryonics.
"Once at Alcor, my mother was maintained briefly with a respirator," Kent said in the affidavit. "Thereafter the respirator was withdrawn and on Dec. 11, 1987, she died."
Three weeks ago, a Riverside County Superior Court judge enjoined coroner's investigators from defrosting seven heads and a body that Alcor has preserved in tanks of liquid nitrogen.
The decision had the effect of preventing the coroner's office from performing an autopsy on the head of Dora Kent, which has been missing since the controversy surfaced.
Louis Sahagun reported from Riverside County; Mark Arax reported from Los Angeles.