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Authorities Seek To Exhume Body Of Poisoned Lottery Winner

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Urooj Khan. (Credit: Illinois Lottery)

Urooj Khan. (Credit: Illinois Lottery)

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UPDATED: 1/9/2013 6:05 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s a fascinating mystery, with more questions than answers. Authorities have been trying to determine who poisoned a man who died days after winning a $1 million jackpot in a lottery instant game.

Urooj Khan, 46, died last July – before collecting his $425,000 in winnings after taxes – and his death was initially ruled to be the result of natural causes. But relatives asked for a complete autopsy, which months later determined he died from cyanide poisoning.

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has sought a court order to have Khan’s body exhumed for further toxicology tests.

Khan’s wife, Shabana Ansari, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that she prepared her husband’s final meal on that July 2012 evening. Ansari, 32, who had been married for 12 years, also wants it made clear that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.

“No, I loved him to death,” she said. “I loved him and he loved me the same way.”

And she is eager for investigators to dig up his body to learn “the truth.”

“I really want them to go for it because I really want to know what exactly happened,” the soft-spoken Ansari said. “I wish God will reveal the truth — the sooner the better.”

His body could be removed from Rosehill Cemetery within days.

Authorities already know Khan died from cyanide poisoning, but have yet to determine how it got into his system.

Dr. Michael Wall, managing director of the Illinois Poison Center, said, “If you think about someone who’s drowning, if you don’t have oxygen for four minutes, their brain dies. Same thing with cyanide – if you have a big enough dose, it can prevent your cells from using oxygen, so you essentially suffocate from the inside out.

Cyanide is natural chemical, contained in the seeds or pits of fruits like apples, apricots, and nectarines.

It’s also used in industry in more concentrated form; for example, in the production of pesticides, and for mining metals such as gold.

Wall said cyanide kills fast.

“Once it gets into the brain and gets into the cells, it starts to act very, very quickly. So, if you have a large dose, people can expire within minutes,” he said.

In 1982, seven people died in the Chicago area after taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The killer was never caught.

Now, medical experts said they’re worried not only about why Khan was murdered, but also whether others might be at risk.

Dr. Timothy Erickson, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said, “If the perpetrator got a hold of cyanide, is there more? And if that supplier got the cyanide to that particular person, is there a way of shutting that down?”

Cyanide is often found in powered or crystallized form, and carries a unique aroma like bitter almonds.

However, due to personal genetics, one-third to one-half of all individuals can’t smell it. For them, cyanide can be an undetectable killer.

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