Brittany Murphy's Death: L.A. Coroner Does Not Rule Out Reopening Investigation

Star's "accidental death" in December 2009 at age 32 is a Hollywood story that continues to confound

By Ken Baker, Senta Scarborough Mar 25, 2016 11:00 AMTags

More than six years after the death of actress Brittany Murphy, unanswered questions—many stemming from new information uncovered in an E! News investigation—remain about the circumstances surrounding her "accidental death" of natural causes at age 32.

Amid renewed interest in the Murphy case, E! News has learned exclusively what the L.A. County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter says would be needed to reopen the death investigation. While Winter does not rule out taking a closer look at their initial findings (death due to pneumonia, anemia and an accidental mix of prescription and over-the-counter pills), he explains, "We would have to have direct evidence. In all honesty, it would take something like a confession. Something connecting somebody with it."

Winter adds that a reexamination, which could include exhuming a body, would happen, "if law enforcement contacted us. Or we can reopen the case if there is substantial evidence."

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In 2013, an independent laboratory, commissioned by Murphy's father, Angelo Bertolotti, tested hair samples that found an "abnormally high" level of at least 10 heavy metals, including barium (a substance found in rat poison) in her body. Those results moved Bertolotti to allege his daughter had been poisoned and floated the theory of a "third-party perpetrator."

Even so, the coroner never conducted their own retest, because, as Winter explains to E! News, "[N]othing showed to the point of poison. [The levels] weren't off the charts, and the levels weren't consistent with poison."

"We could have reopened the case," Winter adds, "but we didn't think it warranted it."

Noted forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, who reviewed the Murphy case for E! News, believes the coroner should take a closer took.

"I would have checked to see if the private lab results were valid and, if they could be corroborated and analyzed, whether there was exposure and where did the exposure come from," says Wecht of the University of Pittsburgh. "You have two people—a husband and a wife—dying five months of each other. And, not engaging in any wild speculation, with two young people dying five months apart you've got to check it out, and I still don't know what happened."

Wecht adds, "It [the case] was dropped, and they should have investigated it."

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E! News has made efforts to reach Brittany's mother, Sharon Murphy, who was the only other resident at the time of the Hollywood Hills residence where both Simon Monjack and her daughter died.

Although Sharon has not been reachable for comment, her former spokesman, Roger Neal, tells E! News: "She's just checked out."

Neal adds, "Her whole world fell apart. I don't know how she did it. I felt so bad for her. She is very strong person I don't know how she kept from having a mental breakdown. I don't know how she put two sentences together. She endured a lot and then had to endure Simon's mom and dad of Brittany going in the press intimate she had something to with their deaths and had to endure all of that stuff and it was horrible. I don't think she ever had the proper time to grieve."