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Judge allows exhumation of poisoned Chicago lottery winner

Handout / Reuters

Urooj Khan of Chicago is pictured holding his winning $1 million 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.

An Illinois judge decided Friday to allow authorities to exhume the body of the Chicago lottery winner police believe was fatally poisoned shortly before he was to collect his winnings.

Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Susan Coleman signed off on the request from prosecutors and the medical examiner, saying no one had objected to exhuming Urooj Khan’s body at Rosehill Cemetery on Chicago’s North Side, though she did not give a time frame for when the exhumation would take place. 

Khan, 46, died July 20, one day after the state issued a $425,000 lump sum payout check for his $1 million winning lottery ticket. The check wasn't cashed until Aug. 15, possibly by a member of his estate. The case was recently reclassified as a homicide when a relative told authorities to take a closer look at Khan's death. 

An autopsy had not been performed last summer because medical examiners believed Khan died from natural causes, but testing revealed he actually died of cyanide poisoning.

Police have not announced any suspects in their investigation.

In court Friday, members of Khan's family said they never believed he died of natural causes and were happy with the judge's decision. 

“I wanted my brother to rest in peace,” Khan’s sister Meraj Khan said. “If that is what it takes to bring justice and peace, that’s what needs to be done.”

Khan’s brother-in-law Mohammed Zaman, said he didn’t know who would murder him, saying “I cannot point finger,” but said he didn’t think his lottery winnings were a motive because “he was wealthy before too.”

During Friday’s proceedings, Khan’s brother, Imtiaz Khan, held up documents that he said proved his brother was murdered, but he wouldn’t comment when asked whether he contacted authorities with that information.

Court papers said the body was not embalmed, leading prosecutors to indicate that it was “critical” to arrange for the remains to be exhumed as soon as possible.

In an affidavit, Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said it was necessary to do a full autopsy to “further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan’s death.”

Khan’s widow and father-in-law have denied any involvement with the death. A lawyer described them as devastated. Khan’s estate with his dry cleaning business and his lotto winnings is said to be worth about $2 million. 

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