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Six weeks after Misrach Ewunetie ’24 was found dead on campus after being missing for four days, autopsy reports have still not been released, and the investigation into her death by the University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) is still ongoing, according to public safety officials.
According to an email on Nov. 30 from the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office, which serves Mercer County, “The ancillary studies on [Ewunetie’s] case are still pending completion.” These studies include toxicology reports.
The email also stated that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, turnaround time for a completed autopsy report is estimated to be 12–16 weeks, and that “no preliminary results will be made available prior to completion of ancillary testing.”
The police investigation by DPS is still ongoing and will continue to remain open until the autopsy report is completed by the Medical Examiner’s office.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office had ended its involvement in the investigation as of Oct. 24, according to a statement to The Daily Princetonian from Prosecutor’s Office Spokesperson Casey DeBlasio. When Ewunetie’s body was discovered on campus on Oct. 20, the Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that “there were no obvious signs of injury and her death does not appear suspicious or criminal in nature.”
On Nov. 7, University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote to the ‘Prince,’ “The case remains open pending a finding from the medical examiner on the cause of death, but law enforcement authorities still affirm there is no evidence or suspicion of foul play.”
Hotchkiss also noted that “communication about the details of an investigation is often limited by protocol, to protect evidence-gathering and to avoid misleading the public.”
The ‘Prince’ contacted criminology experts to gain further context on the circumstances surrounding this case, as compared to comparable police investigations.
Peter Moskos ’94, a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former Baltimore City police officer, told the ‘Prince’ that based on publicly available information about the investigation into Ewunetie’s death, his assessment is that the Office of the Prosecutor believes that it was not a homicide.
Suzanne Fiske ’87, a former detective with the San Diego sheriff’s department who worked in local law enforcement for 32 years, echoed Moskos’ analysis of the situation. According to Fiske, for authorities to publicly state that there is no “suspicion of foul play” indicates that “the level of certainty would need to be extremely high.”
“They likely have evidence that better explains her death that cannot be released,” she wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’
Fiske also indicated that delays in the autopsy report are not unusual, stating that “[s]everal weeks to several months would be a typical timeline.”
She explained that, while the autopsy is generally completed just days after a body is recovered, obtaining toxicology results may prolong the wait, as these tests are often processed in an outside laboratory.
“It can take even longer if there is a request for more than just the usual drug screen. For example, if the decedent took medication or potentially ingested an unusual substance, that would take longer than the typical testing for ETOH, Heroin, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, etc.,” Fiske wrote.
The Medical Examiner’s Office did not specify when it expects the autopsy will be released.
Tess Weinreich and Isabel Yip are Assistant News Editors for the ‘Prince.’
Katherine Dailey is a Head News Editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.