U.S. judge allows exhuming poisoned lottery winner's body

CHICAGO Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:59pm EST

Urooj Khan is pictured holding his winning lottery ticket in this undated handout photo from the Illinois Lottery. Khan died of cyanide poisoning on July 20, 2012, and his death is now a homicide investigation according to media reports, January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Illinois Lottery/Handout

Urooj Khan is pictured holding his winning lottery ticket in this undated handout photo from the Illinois Lottery. Khan died of cyanide poisoning on July 20, 2012, and his death is now a homicide investigation according to media reports, January 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Illinois Lottery/Handout

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago judge agreed on Friday to allow authorities investigating a possible murder to exhume the body of a man who died of cyanide poisoning shortly after winning $1 million in the Illinois Lottery.

Cook County Judge Susan Coleman agreed there was "reasonable and sufficient" reason to allow the Cook County medical examiner to obtain more forensic samples from the body of Urooj Kahn, 46, who died on July 20.

No date has been set for the exhumation, but the medical examiner's goal is to conduct the autopsy by the end of next week, according to Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the county.

Khan died without a will and his estate was mired in a legal battle in the probate division of Cook County Circuit Court.

People at the courthouse, who said they were related to Khan, wanted to know the truth about his death and were pleased the exhumation would be performed.

"We are 100 percent confident he did not die of a natural cause," said a man who identified himself as Khan's brother, but did not give his name. "And something has happened to him ... The truth will come out and everyone will know."

Khan's wife, Shabana Ansari, has told reporters the family all shared lamb curry she made that night, according to media reports. Relatives at the courthouse on Friday said Ansari was a vegetarian.

In a recent petition filed in the probate case, ImTiaz Khan, the dead man's brother and court-appointed administrator of the estate, questioned whether Urooj Khan was legally married to Ansari, who says she is his second wife and heir.

Jasmeen, Khan's daughter by his first marriage, is the only other known heir. The state of Illinois has placed a freeze on the lottery check, which Ansari is refusing to turn over to the estate, according to court filings by the administrator.

The daughter lives with Khan's sister, Meraj Khan, and her husband Mohammed Zaman, who spoke to reporters after the court hearing. Asked if he thought the lottery winnings might have been a motive for his brother-in-law's death, Kahn said he was not sure.

"He was wealthy before," Zaman said.

He said the family has had almost no contact with Ansari since the murder investigation began.

Meraj Khan started to cry as she spoke of her brother.

"He was a good man, very giving," she said. "He always donated money to orphanages. He was very lovely, very friendly, best brother in the world."

She said he was excited after he won the lottery because he could help more people.

Steven Kozicki, an attorney for Ansari, has not returned telephone calls. He told the Chicago Tribune that Ansari had been interviewed by detectives and had nothing to hide.

Khan's death was initially ruled to be caused by heart disease and no autopsy was performed. Toxicology results indicated no drugs or carbon monoxide present.

But several days after his body was released for burial, an unidentified family member asked the medical examiner to revisit the case.

The medical examiner's office ordered comprehensive toxicological testing of samples already in its possession. On November 23, final results confirmed a lethal level of cyanide in the blood, according to the medical examiner, and the death was ruled a homicide.

Chicago police are now investigating the incident as a murder.

Khan presented the winning ticket to Illinois Lottery offices on May 31, 2012, said Lottery spokesman Mike Lang. Khan decided to take the lump-sum payment, which totaled about $424,500 after taxes. A check was sent from Springfield, Illinois, to Khan on July 19 or July 20, Lang said, so it was unlikely he ever saw it.

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune, David Gregorio and Andre Grenon)

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