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The death of Sarah Tolin remains under investigation, even though the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner ruled the 2000 Kelly Walsh High School graduate died of a suicide by hanging at her off-campus Oklahoma University apartment in March, according to a university police detective.

"The case is still an active case and I can't make any comment," John Bishop said Thursday.

Tolin, 23, is the daughter of Don and Vickie Tolin of Casper, and was renowned as a wrestler who successfully challenged the state ban on women's participation in that sport.

She was scheduled to graduate in May with a double major in sociology and history, but was found dead in her apartment on March 7 and was buried in Casper on March 14.

Two days after her unattended death in Norman, Okla., the state medical examiner's office said that it determined her death was caused by hanging, but it didn't know other circumstances about how that happened.

Neither suicide nor homicide had been ruled out at that time, said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the state medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City.

The medical examiner's office intended to conduct toxicology tests to determine if Tolin had been using drugs or alcohol, and that could take up to 12 weeks, Rowland said then.

If suicide was ruled out, then law enforcement could proceed with a criminal investigation, OU police Sgt. Gary Robinson said then.

However, pathologist Dr. Chai S. Choi ruled her death a suicide on March 7, less than 10 hours after she was pronounced dead.

That report wasn't official until May 23, when Choi received the examination of organs and signed the autopsy report that concluded that Tolin died by hanging and the manner of death was suicide.

This closed the case as far as the medical examiner's office is concerned unless someone comes forward with new evidence, Rowland said Thursday.

To his knowledge, the case has not been turned over to another jurisdiction, Rowland said. "No other law enforcement agencies have contacted us."

Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall said Thursday his office is not involved in an investigation.

But the OU Police Department is still investigating, Bishop said. "We're waiting for a few more reports before we close the case."

He declined to say whether police were considering any suspects in Tolin's death.

Natrona County Coroner Dr. James Thorpen, who has reviewed Choi's autopsy, said suicide cases on occasion have been reopened after other evidence surfaced.

At the Tolin family's request, Thorpen said he took photographs of Sarah Tolin's body before her funeral.

Bruises and other marks indicated previous injuries from assault, he said.

"There is a possibility that this could have been done by somebody else," Thorpen said.

"The findings at autopsy could be explained by suicide or homicide," he said.

Don Tolin could not be reached for comment for this story.

Autopsy statements

Choi's autopsy briefly recounted the events preceding the discovery of Tolin's body and why she ruled it a suicide.

Tolin and her boyfriend Joe Blackwolf had been arguing on Sunday, March 6, and when they returned home she went into her bedroom, according to her autopsy report.

Blackwolf went into the bedroom to check on her and found her hanging from the doorknob by a computer cord. He removed the cord, called 911, and emergency medical services arrived and started CPR. She was taken to the Norman Regional Hospital where she was dead on arrival, according to the autopsy.

Early morning March 7, Blackwolf wrote three statements for the OU Police Department, according to court documents.

Both Blackwolf's statements and the autopsy repeatedly misspelled Tolin's name as "Sara."

Tolin was pronounced dead at 1:17 a.m. March 7, according to the police and the autopsy.

At 10:40 a.m., Choi finished the pathological report of the autopsy.

The report notes neck injuries from hanging; scrapes and bruises on her face, chest, arms, legs and hands; and fine diagonal scars on her wrists.

Choi then writes: "This 23-year-old white female has a history of prior suicide attempts and self-mutilation," but does not cite a source for this history.

"It is felt that the cause of death is asphyxia by hanging. The manner of death is ruled a suicide based upon further investigation of the circumstances surrounding her death by law enforcement," Choi wrote.

The autopsy does not include observations made by emergency room Dr. Thomas Ingmire when Tolin's body arrived at the Norman Regional Hospital.

Ingmire reported that Tolin had bruising on her back, back of her legs and arms "which may have been evidence of previous domestic assaults," according to an affidavit for a search warrant written by detective Bishop.

A judge signed the search warrant at 11 a.m., 20 minutes after Choi ruled Tolin's death a suicide at 10:40 a.m.

While this affidavit mentioned the observations of the emergency room doctor, it did not mention Choi's comments in her autopsy.

The complete autopsy dated May 23 includes the lab analysis dated March 18.

The lab's chief forensic toxicologist Philip M. Kemp tested only for alcohol and carbon monoxide, and both results were negative.

Rowland defended the autopsy's conclusions, although he did not know why Tolin's name was misspelled.

He especially defended the omission of possible domestic violence, and defended Choi's statement that Tolin had a history of prior suicide attempts and self-mutilation.

His office made that determination based on the examination of the body, the victim's medical history, and the police investigation, Rowland said.

"All of that is taken into consideration," he said. "What does the evidence of everything show?"

NEWS TRACKER

Last we knew: The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office ruled on May 23 that Sarah Tolin died of a suicide by hanging.

The latest: Tolin's death remains under investigation by the Oklahoma University Police Department.

What's next: The department awaits more reports.

Reporter Tom Morton can be reached at (307) 266-0592, or at Tom.Morton@casperstartribune.net.

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