FREMONT — Jacob Limberios, a 19-year-old whose body was exhumed and autopsied twice after he was shot in the head last year, died from a self-inflicted but accidental shooting, according to a grand jury and an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
A Sandusky County special grand jury found no probable cause to charge anyone with a crime in connection to the Castalia man’s death.
The panel found the young man’s shooting was self-inflicted but stated that he “did not intend to take his own life,” in a report released Wednesday.
The report follows 10 days of testimony from 55 witnesses and review of 286 evidence exhibits.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, at a news conference at the Sandusky County Court of Common Pleas, also reported Bureau of Criminal Investigation findings. He said Mr. Limberios accidentally shot himself and noted tests determined the gun’s safety mechanism was faulty.
“What happened on March 2, 2012, was a horrible, horrible tragedy. There’s nothing any of us can do to change that. We believe based on the evidence that Jacob Limberios did not intend to kill himself. We agree with the grand jury,” Mr. DeWine said.
“We are convinced he did not commit suicide. He died in a horrible and tragic accident.”
Mr. DeWine detailed the BCI investigation into the shooting — which included interviews with 59 people; forensic biology, firearms, DNA, and latent print testing; and a review of the residence near Clyde where the incident occurred. He also described challenges investigators faced because of time that had elapsed after the shooting, including the lack of an immediate autopsy and discarded evidence.
Sandusky County Coroner John Wukie had ruled the death a suicide without ordering an autopsy.
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That ruling upset parents Michael and Shannon Limberios, who sought more information, expressed dissatisfaction with local investigators’ efforts, and hired a forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh, to perform an autopsy. He determined the death was a homicide.
A later autopsy by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office reported findings “not inconsistent with the original ruling of suicide.”
Mr. and Mrs. Limberios said the state investigation validated their long-held belief that their son did not try to kill himself.
“We always knew that Jake didn’t commit suicide. The only thing that we’ve ever asked for was an honest, thorough investigation, and Mike DeWine delivered that,” Mr. Limberios said.
Mrs. Limberios said she doesn’t know if someone else shot her son. The incident was witnessed by three people, who told investigators the gun discharged while Jacob Limberios was handling the weapon.
“Honestly, I don’t think it matters … because we’ve always said and we maintain today that we were never looking ever for prosecution, jail time, and we’re not,” she said. “We knew it was an accident, whether Jake pulled the trigger or someone else pulled the trigger. It was not a suicide. It was an accident, and that’s all we’ve wanted all along — for Ella’s sake.”
Ella is Mr. Limberios’ 4-year-old daughter.
Lack of autopsy
The family will continue to pursue a lawsuit against Dr. Wukie, challenging his ruling on the manner of death as suicide.
Mr. DeWine said an initial autopsy should have been performed and urged the Ohio General Assembly to hold hearings and work with county coroners to discuss possible rules regarding such cases.
“The difficulty is, where do you draw the line about when autopsies should be performed?” Mr. DeWine said. “[It’s] something we should talk about ... and go through our normal process and figure out if the law needs to be changed.”
Dr. Wukie said he made the suicide determination after speaking with Sheriff Kyle Overmyer.
“He told me what happened. It was obviously a very unfortunate event, but I didn’t believe that doing anything more at that time was going to accomplish anything,” Dr. Wukie said. “The conclusion today was exactly what we said it was. That hasn’t changed.”
He acknowledged that ordering an autopsy would have stopped some speculation about the death’s circumstances that ensued and answered family questions. The case will prompt him to order more autopsies.
“It’s just going to be necessary to do more autopsies, especially in suicides because people have difficulty swallowing that word,” he said.
Dr. Wukie said his suicide ruling “doesn’t address intent,” and he plans to continue to describe self-inflicted fatal shootings as suicides.
“I do not feel that that required an intent. It is just a statement of fact … that he did this to himself,” Dr. Wukie said.
Mr. DeWine also addressed discrepancies among forensic experts, including Dr. Wecht’s contention that the shot’s trajectory was from left to right. Mr. DeWine said that analysis was the only one by experts to reach the conclusion that the entrance wound was on the left, and that when interviewed by a BCI investigator, Dr. Wecht said experts disagree frequently.
Two forensic scientists hired by the attorney general’s office to review the case concluded the shot was self-inflicted.
Dr. Michael Baden, former New York City chief medical examiner, said the existence of Mr. Limberios’ blood and hair on the gun muzzle shows it was near his head when discharged.
Dr. Vincent Di Maio, former San Antonio chief medical examiner, found no evidence anyone else shot him.
The attorney general’s office will pay Dr. Baden about $13,000 for his work and Dr. Di Maio more than $3,000.
Among the BCI investigation’s most significant findings were results from firearm testing that Mr. DeWine said showed the 357-caliber revolver had a malfunction to the hammer block rebound safety mechanism.
“Thirty percent of the time it would go off with a touching or ... some other motion,” Mr. DeWine said. “It’s supposed to never go off, never fire unless you physically pull that trigger.”
Mr. Limberios, who collected firearms, took the gun to a gathering where drinking took place the night of his death, according to the investigative report.
Mr. DeWine stated investigators found “no incontrovertible evidence” to refute statements by the three witnesses — Evan Neidler, William Lewis, and Brittany Bowers — that Mr. Limberios was handling the gun when it fired, though he noted discrepancies in their statements.
He also noted the lack of evidence. The funeral home discarded clothes Mr. Limberios wore when he died, clothing worn by witnesses wasn’t collected, and bloodstain pattern analysis was difficult because the scene had been cleaned and not enough pictures were taken.
Sheriff Overmyer said his office’s investigation was conducted to the “best of our abilities.”
“They did do a thorough job and unfortunately they were later criticized by many. And today Attorney General DeWine gets up and reveals from [the] grand jury point of view and the BCI that we still have the same answer as on that night,” he said.
Mrs. Limberios said that problems with the local investigation required the state agency to step in and conduct a review she called “upfront” and “nonbiased.” She said the long quest for answers has been a struggle for the family.
“I don’t remember life before this. I don’t remember life before fighting this battle, what it was like before,” she said.
Mr. DeWine said his office will make the investigation evidence available to anyone who requests it.