Independent autopsy of Robert Fuller finds no signs of foul play
On June 10, Robert Fuller’s body was found hanging from a tree outside Palmdale City Hall. His death came in the middle of the George Floyd protests and a week after Malcolm Harsch, another Black man, was found hanging from a tree in Victorville, less than 50 miles away. Their deaths shed light on the concerning rise in suicides among Black Americans.
An autopsy commissioned by the family of Robert Fuller, a Black man whose body was found hanging from a tree in Palmdale, found no signs of foul play, the family’s attorney said Friday.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that its detectives and the Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner had determined that Fuller, 24, died by suicide, affirming a preliminary finding that Fuller’s family and many residents of the Antelope Valley had called into question.
Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, a pathologist who examined Fuller’s body at the request of his family, found no signs of trauma significant enough to indicate a struggle or any foul play, according to Jamon Hicks, a lawyer representing the family. While Pietruszka has yet to officially determine the cause of death and is still completing a written analysis, Hicks said he does not expect it to dispute the coroner’s conclusion.
While the coroner’s office investigated the possibility that Fuller was hanged by someone other than himself, Matthew J. Miller, a deputy medical examiner, said a lack of “significant trauma” to the limbs or neck, “coupled with the existence of evidence of prior suicidal ideation and a history of mental health issues,” supported the finding of suicide.
Sheriff’s investigators said Thursday that, after obtaining medical records and interviewing relatives and social workers, they established that Fuller had been repeatedly hospitalized in the last three years for mental illness and suicidal behavior. Fuller had expressed an intention to hurt himself, and on at least one occasion attempted it, investigators said, noting that he had tried to light himself on fire in Las Vegas.
Sheriff’s detectives learned that an Electronic Benefit Transfer card registered to Fuller was used May 14 to purchase a red rope, consistent with the one used in his death, Cmdr. Chris Marks said Thursday. Detectives haven’t recovered video from the dollar store showing Fuller purchasing the rope, although Marks said they’ve obtained video that shows Fuller using the same debit card at other stores.
Fuller was last seen alive at a 7-Eleven store around 8 p.m. on June 9, Hicks said. About seven hours later, a homeless person walking through Poncitlán Square, near Palmdale’s City Hall, found Fuller’s body hanging from a tree and alerted a nearby fire station, a coroner’s report said.
Fuller’s left wrist was scarred; Miller, the deputy medical examiner, said this was “strongly suggestive of prior suicidal ideation.” Hicks said Fuller’s family has since learned he “was what you’d call a ‘cutter’ — he cut himself to relieve pain.” He added that the family didn’t know the severity of Fuller’s apparent mental illness, as demonstrated in the hospital records that sheriff’s investigators detailed on Thursday, until the department briefed Hicks on their findings a few hours before they were made public.
Hicks said he appreciated the oversight of the FBI and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, who he said spoke personally with Fuller’s family after his office assumed a monitoring role in the sheriff’s investigation. “That brings me relief, that there were numerous eyes on this,” Hicks said.
Hicks threw cold water on the notion that Fuller’s death and that of his half-brother, Terron Boone, were connected. A week after Fuller’s body was found, Boone, 31, died in a shootout with Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives in Rosamond, a Kern County community about 20 miles north of Palmdale.
In the Sheriff’s Department’s account, plainclothes detectives tried to pull over a Jeep carrying Boone, who was wanted for allegedly assaulting, threatening and imprisoning a woman, when Boone stepped out of the car, shooting. Detectives fatally shot him in the chest.
Sheriff’s detectives are still investigating Boone’s death; officials on Thursday declined to discuss that probe.
The view from Sacramento
For reporting and exclusive analysis from bureau chief John Myers, get our California Politics newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.