The conspiracy theories began to swirl almost as soon as the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had been found dead in his room at a remote West Texas hunting resort.
After joining a group that was hunting quail Friday and laughing with other resort guests at a private party that night, Scalia retired to his room. There, authorities said, he died in his sleep.
He was pronounced dead by an official who hadn’t seen Scalia’s body in person, and an autopsy was never performed, leading skeptics to wonder: Was he injected with a substance that would simulate a heart attack? Was the pillow found over his head used to suffocate him?
Wednesday, the judge’s son, Eugene Scalia, addressed the rumors on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” saying: “Our family just has no doubt he died of natural causes.”
“My father was like a force of nature,” he said. “He seemed sort of a permanent institution. But he would have been the first to tell you — the first — that, we’re from dust, we return to dust, and your life could be taken from you at any instant.
“He was a month shy of 80 years old. He lived to see an incredibly full and active life, but I knew, and he knew, that he was at a place in life where he could be taken from this world at any time — and that’s what happened last week.”
Questions arose Saturday when Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead from afar, which is permitted under Texas law. The judge also decided against an autopsy in part because it was what the family wanted, she said — and in part because the county sheriff told her “there were no signs of foul play or struggle, and that it appeared that Justice Scalia had died peacefully in his sleep.”
William O. Ritchie, former head of criminal investigations for D.C. police, raised concerns, writing on Facebook: “You have a justice of the peace pronounce death while not being on the scene and without any medical training opining that the justice died of a heart attack.”
GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump also joined the skeptics.
“They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow,” Trump told conservative radio host Michael Savage.
An initial report from the resort said Scalia was found in the bed with “a pillow over his head.” Police have since pointed out it was above his head.
“I think enough disclosures were made and what I said precisely was accurate. He had a pillow over his head, not over his face as some have been saying,” Cibolo Creek Ranch owner John Poindexter told CNN. “The pillow was against the headboard and over his head when he was discovered. He looked like someone who had had a restful night’s sleep. There was no evidence of anything else.”
On Wednesday, Eugene Scalia said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that the family was told that his father died of natural causes.
“And we accept that,” Scalia said.
He added: “Honestly, I think it’s a distraction from a great man and his legacy at a time when there’s so much to be said about that and to help people even more fully appreciate that. And, on a personal level, I think it’s a bit of a hurtful distraction for a family that’s mourning.”
That said, Scalia emphasized his gratitude for those who are “honoring his legacy.”
“Everybody loses their dad at some point,” he said. “I feel blessed that it’s not just the family that feels he was great, but there are millions of people who feel that.”
Justice Scalia’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court’s Great Hall on Friday. A private ceremony will take place at 9:30 a.m., and the public will be allowed in from 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
On Saturday, family and friends will gather for his funeral mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mass begins at 11 a.m. and will be followed by a private burial.
There are already signs of Scalia’s passing at the building itself. Inside the courtroom, in a tradition dating back nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has draped black cloth over his chair and bench. The court has also placed a black drape over the courtroom’s doors.
Outside, the court’s flags will remain at half-staff for 30 days.
Mark Berman contributed to this report.