Ronni Chasen's Autopsy Finally Released After Legal Battle
The publicist died from four gunshot wounds, according to the official report from the Los Angeles County Coroner, withheld from the public for three years but released following a lawsuit filed by a documentary filmmaker.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's official autopsy report for Ronni Chasen, obtained late Thursday by The Hollywood Reporter, reveals that the publicist died in her Mercedes-Benz of four gunshot wounds fired from what police initially described as a "second vehicle."
Read the full autopsy here.
"While she was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive and [sic] unknown vehicle pulled up and someone fired approximately 4 gunshots into her vehicle," the report reads. "All witnesses report hearing 4 gunshots." The report was filed hours after the accident and initially mentioned a vehicle, but officials later said an unemployed felon named Harold Martin Smith rode a bicycle from Hollywood to Beverly Hills and back.
The autopsy, which was completed on Nov. 30, 2010, revealed the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, one of which ricocheted and entered her body again. (A preliminary coroner's report that aired on local TV at the time said Chasen was shot five times.) Three gunshots entered the body from the front, and one entered from the back. No drugs or alcohol was present in her system, according to the autopsy.
The autopsy results, which had been placed on a security hold by Beverly Hills police three years ago, were released as a settlement of part of an ongoing lawsuit filed Nov. 13 by documentary filmmaker Ryan Katzenbach, who is making a movie about Chasen's death.
Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden told THR in January 2012 that Smith acted alone in shooting Chasen. It's believed Smith rode from a former hotel in Hollywood called the Harvey Apartments to the shooting site at the intersection of Sunset and Whittier. Los Angeles Police, alerted by an America's Most Wanted tipster, arrived at the Harvey Apartments on Dec. 1, 2011, to serve Smith with a search warrant. During the raid, Smith reportedly shot and killed himself.
That report also indicated that an unknown vehicle pulled up next to Chasen's Mercedes while she was stopped at a red light and someone fired shots at the publicist through her passenger-side window. The Beverly Hills Police detective who told the Los Angeles County Coroner's investigator about a "second vehicle" did not immediately return THR's call. It remains unclear whether "second vehicle" referred to a car or a bike.
As part of his lawsuit, Katzenbach is still seeking the Beverly Hills Police investigation file. He believes, based on his interviews, that unanswered questions may undermine the department's official explanation of the crime. For instance, Katzenbach says the man who initially tipped off America's Most Wanted about Smith is one of his key sources for the documentary.
The filmmaker's suit argues that the department has already opened up its Chasen investigation file anyway, by cooperating with Beverly Hills Confidential: A Century of Stars, Scandals and Murder, a 2012 book co-authored by a BHPD officer, which devotes a chapter to the case. Its cover notes that information comes direct "from the files of the Beverly Hills police department." Chief Snowden later gave copies of Confidential as gifts.
Buoyed by his legal success, Katzenbach is launching a 45-day Indiegogo campaign seeking $200,000 to further finance the completion of his Ed Asner-narrated documentary, 6:38: The Death of Ronni Chasen -- titled in reference to the elapsed time between her final cellphone call and the arrival of police. Most of the funds raised would be earmarked for re-creating the crime and crashing a Mercedes-Benz identical to the one she drove in order to test potential scenarios against the findings of the autopsy and other new information acquired from interviews with Katzenbach's sources.