What Happened to Bobbi Kristina Brown? Questions Remain About Nick Gordon as Death Investigation Continues

Estate wants Gordon to pay, but officials have yet to release any definitive findings from their ongoing investigations

By Senta Scarborough Aug 19, 2015 5:00 PMTags
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Nearly six months after Bobbi Kristina Brown was discovered face-down in a bathtub, we know her all-too tragic fate. She rests in a New Jersey cemetery beside her beloved mother.  But the question of what really happened to the only daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown remains.

At the center of that mystery is her former boyfriend, Nick Gordon. The couple were living together when she was found unresponsive on Jan. 31 at their townhouse in Roswell, Ga.

A few details have emerged from that Saturday morning. Gordon; Max Lomas, a friend of the couple; and Lomas' girlfriend were in the house at the time, Lomas' former attorney Ashleigh Merchant told E! News back in February.

According to Merchant, a visit from a cable technician prompted the search for Bobbi Kristina. Gordon answered the door and showed him around while Lomas looked for Bobbi Kristina and knocked on her bedroom door. She said that when he didn't get an answer, Lomas went to check on her and found her in the bathtub, screamed for Gordon and called 911, after which Gordon performed CPR until paramedics arrived on the scene.

An autopsy was performed July 27, the day after Bobbi Kristina died in hospice care. The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office stated that they won't be issuing the death certificate or a cause and manner of death until "all test results are completed and all investigative, medical, and other documentary records are received and thoroughly reviewed."

A lawsuit first filed on June 26 on behalf of Bobbi Kristina's estate accused Gordon of domestic abuse and stealing at least $11,000 from his girlfriend's bank accounts while she was in a coma. New allegations have since surfaced in an amended complaint accusing Gordon of wrongful death.

In the 13-page amendment, a copy of which was obtained by E! News, the estate now claims Gordon fought with his live-in girlfriend, calling her a "whore" and accusing her of cheating before giving her a "toxic cocktail rendering her unconscious." Gordon then "put her face down in a tub of cold water causing her to suffer brain damage," the suit charges.

"The recent (amended) lawsuit against Nick is slanderous and meritless," Gordon's attorneys, Joe Habachy and Jose Baez, fired back in a statement. "Nick has been heartbroken and destroyed over the loss of his love and it's shameful that such baseless allegations have been presented publicly. Nick has engaged civil counsel and intends to defend the lawsuit vigorously and expose it for what it is: a fictitious assault against the person who loved Krissy most."

No criminal charges have been filed and, to date, no one there that morning, including Gordon, has been named a suspect.

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Roswell Police interviewed witnesses, including Gordon and Lomas, and they turned their investigation over to the Fulton County District Attorney's Office in June, but whether they believe a crime was committed is not yet known.

The D.A.'s Office confirmed to E! News this week that the case is still open and under investigation.

Multiple sources have told E! News that Gordon and Bobbi Kristina had been having problems before Jan. 31. Eight days before, police were called to their home after neighbors reported a possible domestic incident, though no one was at the house when cops got there. A source told us that the couple were "just having issues."

"There was something that happened that caused a confrontation. They did get into an argument. That's why Nick was sleeping in the other room. He was getting some space," the source said.

Bobbi Kristina's family has questioned the circumstances leading up to her being found unconscious, with some wondering if Nick was somehow to blame. When he failed to show up at the hospital to visit Bobbi Kristina, Gordon insisted via his attorney that her family had banned him from visiting. Bobby Brown's camp, meanwhile, said that Gordon never made much of an effort to visit.

After the estate first sued him, Gordon assembled a high-profile legal team consisting of Atlanta attorneys Joe Habachy and Randall Kessler and Florida attorney Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony when she was accused of killing her daughter.

Gordon, who checked into rehab for substance abuse after a televised intervention on Dr. Phil, has maintained innocence of any wrongdoing throughout. He currently is living with family in Florida and only recently broke his social media silence on Bobbi Kristina's death, tweeting Sunday, "I look at our pics sometimes it makes me smile sometime I cry @REALbkBrown #happymemories…I'm so happy/blessed that I had @REALbkBrown in my life. i will always & forever love you."

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The 25-year-old didn't attend Bobbi Kristina's funeral, but his mother Michele said in a statement at the time, "The passing of Bobbi Kristina is devastating to Nick and our family. Nick loved and cared for Krissi deeply, and he has suffered greatly each and every day they've been apart. Nick and our family are in mourning, and we ask that you respect our privacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with both the Houstons and the Browns during this difficult time."

Meanwhile, Gordon has been targeted in the estates' wrongful death complaint. What are the chances of Bobbi Kristina's family successfully taking him to court?

The difference between a civil and criminal case, evidence-wise, concerns "the preponderance of the evidence," Darryl Cohen, a veteran criminal defense and entertainment attorney based in Atlanta, tells E! News. You need a "little more than half" of what you need in a criminal case to get a judgment in the plaintiff's favor.

"You have to have little over half showing the defendant did stuff to her and as a result she was damaged," says the lawyer, who is not involved in this particular case. "In a criminal case you need guilty beyond the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, which is a pretty heavy standard."

Still, Cohen questions the motivation behind the new claims made in the amended lawsuit, noting, "There are more questions than answers."

"I found the ‘pushed her into the water' [allegation] that wasn't in the original complaint interesting. Did they suddenly come up with additional evidence or did they fabricate evidence or did they choose not to publish it?" he asks. Proving those claims would entail someone having to testify [during a civil trial], says Cohen, who worked alongside current Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard years ago when they were both assistant district attorneys.

As for the question of whether money was the big motivator behind the suit, Cohen wonders, ""Why file the civil suit, if he [Gordon] had no money? Was it someone looking for publicity?"

At one time, Bobbi Kristina Brown and Nick Gordon maintained to the world that they were husband and wife. After she was hospitalized in January, reps for both Bobby Brown and the Houston family confirmed that they were, in fact, not married, nor had ever been.

There is currently no common law marriage in Georgia, though the state does recognize common law marriages that occurred in other states.

"We haven't seen her will," Cohen adds. "Maybe they have seen a will, or some claim a handwritten note, and there is a chance [Gordon] would stand to inherit. This is a way they could seek the money."

Whitney Houston, who died in 2012 when she accidentally drowned in a bathtub in her suite at the Beverly Hilton hotel, left her estate to her daughter. It's unclear what happens to those millions now.

"Unless they are trying to force an indictment, why are they suing him?" Cohen reiterates. "Where is this coming from? Is he going to be the recipient of an insurance policy or a beneficiary? If not, this is an exercise in publicity to have him indicted, or perhaps both."

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Ultimately, what stands between Gordon and a charge that he somehow contributed to the death of Bobbi Kristina Brown?

"In most homicides, someone had an argument or someone drove by and shot someone and they are dead. It is a fairly easy thing to charge," Cohen says. "But here, the medical examiner's autopsy and determination of cause of death all play a major part in whether a prosecution of murder (if sought) will have any chance to win."

And there are least doesn't seem to be a smoking gun in this case.

"When people think of murder they often think of those scenarios, but it isn't always like that," Cohen says.

Regarding the new lawsuit allegations claiming Nick drugged Bobbi Kristina and purposely put her in water, Cohen adds, "If they have a witness it will be far more straightforward and will be direct evidence."

The medical examiner's office has already indicated that coming to a definitive conclusion will be "challenging" as they evaluate possible causes of death and contributing factors.

"The time elapsed between the initial event on January 31st and her resulting death will complicate reconstruction of events surrounding her initial unresponsiveness," the office said in a statement.

So, just how important are the autopsy and the medical examiner's findings?

"Since there isn't an obvious cause of death, I am reading into this," Cohen surmised, "I think the entire autopsy will be major in what is going to happen."

"The medical examiner, I think, will look at every piece of tissue and every possible angle to rule in or out a cause of death other than her heart stopped," he predicts.

The D.A. is also now obligated to look at the new allegations brought up in the wrongful death suit and investigate them, he adds.

If circumstances surrounding Bobbi Kristina's death remain inconclusive, what sort of case could be built against Gordon in that situation?

"Juries like direct evidence, not indirect circumstantial evidence. They like to know someone pulled out a gun and fired and someone was hit and they died. Direct cause and effect," he said.

Cohen, as an assistant district attorney, would use the snow analogy when he was trying a case using indirect evidence.

"You go to bed and there isn't snow on the ground and the next morning everything is covered with snow," he described the theory. "You weren't there watching the snow come down but somehow it came down there. It's indirect. Indirectly you know the snow came from the sky."

And in the Bobbi Kristina death, it could be applied this way:

"If there is no direct evidence and link to show how she was killed, you have to put on the witness that said he beat her up," he said. "Let's say I beat you up or hit you badly and I say I'm so sorry, and I give you drugs and they are too much, and you go face down in the bathtub and they revive you. They can charge me."

Cohen laid out several possible legal scenarios should prosecutors conclude that a crime was committed and file charges against someone they deem responsible for Bobbi Kristina's death.

Again, neither police nor the Fulton County D.A.'s Office has named any suspects during the course of their investigations.

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A defendant or defendants "could face voluntary manslaughter, it's one step under murder," Cohen said. "It's ‘you wanted to kill the person but you didn't have the real intent.'"

"Next step is involuntary [manslaughter].  It is reckless conduct…You walk in the room and you fire a gun in the air and it ricochets and kills someone. They are still dead but there is no intent. It's stupid, foolish conduct."

If the medical examiner's findings conclude that Bobbi Kristina died of a drug overdose or physical abuse or a combination of the two, then "you have a really good starting point, and, as a result, bingo, they could go after [Gordon] or persons unknown," Cohen said.

But "we don't know what happened. There are so many scenarios," the attorney added.

Even if the toxicology tests show she was under the influence of x, y or z, that doesn't mean Gordon pushed her into the water, or drowned her or tried to drown her, Cohen said.

"If the state can show he provided drugs illegal or legal, but not prescribed or even prescribed for her, but he gave her more than she was supposed to have and she was high and fell in the bathtub and drowned and died later, you can easily charge involuntary manslaughter," Cohen said.

It's also involuntary if Gordon pushed her under the water but didn't mean to kill her, he added.

Cohen reiterated that he doesn't see this ultimately being a murder case.

"I don't see the evidence right now," he tells E! News. "You can show he is a bad guy and charge him with things like battery or aggravated assault, if you can support those allegations, and he can still be charged with everything other than murder. It's unusual, very unusual, but this is a unique case by its nature.

"Allegations are easy to make, tough to defend and even tougher to prove."