The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 8, 2013

Lottery winner's cyanide death being investigated

(Continued)

Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, the winnings amounted to about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang. The check was issued from the state Comptroller's Office on July 19, the day before Khan died. It was cashed Aug. 15, Lang said, explaining that if a lottery winner dies, the money typically goes to his or her estate.

Calls to Khan's family went unanswered Monday. A knock on the door at the family's small, two-story house late Monday afternoon wasn't answered.

Khan was pronounced dead July 20 at a hospital, but Cina would not say where Khan was when he fell ill, citing the ongoing investigation. The external exam showed no signs of trauma on Khan's body.

No autopsy was done because, at the time, the Medical Examiner's Office didn't generally perform them on people 45 and older unless the death was suspicious, Cina said. The cutoff age has since been raised to age 50. After the basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative, the death was ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries.

Cyanide can be inhaled, swallowed or injected. Deborah Blum, an expert on poisons who has written about the detectives who pioneered forensic toxicology, said using cyanide to kill someone has become rare partially because it's difficult to obtain and easy to detect — often leaving blue splotches on a victim's skin.

"It has a really strong, bitter taste, so you would know you had swallowed something bad if you had swallowed cyanide," Blum said. "But if you had a high enough dose it wouldn't matter, because ... a good lethal dose will take you out in less than five minutes."

It takes only a small amount of fine cyanide powder to be deadly, she said, as it disrupts the ability of cells to transport oxygen around the body, causing a convulsive, violent death.

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