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Lottery Winner's Death Changed to Homicide After Relative's Tip

Less than a month after striking it rich in the lottery, and days before his check would arrive in the mail, Urooj Khan was dead. There was no trauma to his body, nor did a cursory check find any unusual substances such as carbon monoxide. Based on his age and the coroner's guidelines, an autopsy was not performed and his death was declared the result of "natural causes," reports the Chicago Tribune.

Though it seemed to be a simple case of bad luck after good, within a week, a family member called and requested that the medical examiner take a closer look. They did, and by December, test results indicated cyanide poisoning. Police are planning to exhume Khan's body and investigate the matter further. The suspected motive is obvious: his lottery winnings.

On the night of his death, Khan returned home from working at one of his self-owned and -operated dry cleaning businesses. An hour later, he had dinner, and then went to bed. He woke up screaming before he was brought into the hospital. The initial cause of death was thought to be a hardening of the arteries.

Assuming the exhumation backs the preliminary findings of the medical examiner, police will probably be starting their search for whomever stood to benefit from Khan's lottery winnings and death. If they can build a case, the culprit could potentially face first degree murder charges. Unlike some other states, Illinois does not have a sentencing enhancement for murder for financial gain (unless the murder was via a contracted hit) or murder by poison. The closest provision is:

"the murder was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan, scheme or design to take a human life by unlawful means, and the conduct of the defendant created a reasonable expectation that the death of a human being would result therefrom."

Of course, that's not much different from the underlying charge of murder, which itself requires proof of intent, which is strongly related to premeditation. Something more must be shown here, such as a preconceived plan.

Poisoning someone by using cyanide isn't something that is done on a whim. One must plan the source of the chemical, the delivery method (such as food), and research the necessary amounts. Once Khan's alleged murderer is identified, it would not be a surprise to see this aggravating factor charged.

What will that ultimately mean for the culprit? Not much. The death penalty is long gone in this state. It might mean a life sentence without the possibility of parole, however.

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