A Life Interrupted: 'It's not a natural death'

Chapter Six / The Autopsy

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Bill Wade, Post-GazetteAllegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht, seated, at press conference at his office Downtown about his office's private autopsy on Anthony Proviano. Belmont County Sheriff Chief Deputy Olen Martin is shown standing left behind Dr. Wecht and next to Sheriff's Deputy Bart Giesey.
By Steve Levin
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Olen Martin, chief deputy of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office, stood impassively at the back of the room with Deputy Bart Giesey, hands clasped behind his back, the bulge of his gun clearly visible at his waist. In front of him, at the podium, was Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, preparing to explain at a news conference the results of his office's private autopsy on Anthony Proviano.

The well-known coroner, who had conducted 13,000 autopsies himself and reviewed or supervised 30,000 others during his long career, had been hired by Anthony's parents after the Belmont County coroner refused to order one.

Deputy Martin already knew the results; he and Dr. Wecht had spoken a day earlier and the coroner had told him he could not determine whether Anthony's late December death on an abandoned township road in Belmont County was a suicide or murder. Now, as Martin watched the media jockey for position in the room, he let his mind wander over the past few days.

If there had been themes at the memorial service for Anthony three days earlier on Jan. 17 at the University of Cincinnati Medical College, they had been that the 29-year-old second-year student was "too trusting" and that he never would have committed suicide.

Students had set up "Tony's Corner" on a bulletin board near a classroom and filled it with clippings about Anthony's death from newspapers and the Internet, along with black-and-white photos of him. A memorial book also had been started. Of all the entries, only one, and unsigned at that, called Anthony "troubled," intimating that by committing suicide he had made the one independent decision left to him. The medical school, however, had not notified Deputy Martin of the book's existence; he had found out from Anthony's parents, Carmen and Maryann.

After the service, he had made a point of confronting the medical school dean who had stonewalled him several days earlier. It was raining, and he parked so the dean, who was standing outside his car, couldn't pull out.

"You're very much expected to cooperate with the investigation," the deputy shouted through the passenger side window.

"We'll do everything we can," the dean said. "There were just some very personal things in that book. We had some privacy issues. We actually considered taking it out and tearing it up."

"There's no privacy issues," the investigator replied, putting his car in drive. "The kid is dead."

His attention was snapped back to the present by Dr. Wecht's loud clearing of his throat.

"Obviously," the doctor was saying, "it can be a homicide. It can be a suicide. It's not a natural death. More of the known facts and physical evidence in terms of our experience ... leans toward the involvement of another person."

Anthony's blood alcohol content was between .05 and .07, the equivalent of a single drink, so he wasn't drunk. The autopsy found no gunpowder on Anthony's hands, although it could have been washed away by rain. He was not suffering from a terminal disease. He was not robbed, beaten or sexually assaulted.

Deputy Martin was surprised.

Not beaten? He thought there was a very good chance Anthony had been beaten.

Dr. Wecht said he had examined police reports about the death, and when combined with the autopsy reports, "I believe it's not wild to conjecture that someone else was involved here."

However, although Anthony had no apparent school, financial or emotional problems in his life, Dr. Wecht concluded that "sometimes people commit suicide for reasons that other people would consider most trivial."

When the news conference ended, Deputy Martin met the Provianos at an Eat'n Park on Brownsville Road. They had told the media they would be out of town to avoid interviews.

"For the first time, there was a little bit of relief; they were a little more at ease," he said. "My impression was that Wecht's ruling that the [cause of death] was undetermined was the reason.

"Anything other than suicide was acceptable."

Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial

Chronology of events

Tomorrow: Dashed Dreams, Buoyed Hopes


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