Los Angeles police won’t know for a few more weeks why Michael A. Cormier, a longtime county coroner’s autopsy technician and photographer, died on April 20. But they do know it had nothing do with the March 1 death of conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart—no matter what you read elsewhere.
Cormier’s colleagues at the coroner’s office are waiting for the results of toxicology tests after an initial exam at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, coupled with comments made by Cormier himself, led doctors to believe the 61-year-old North Hollywood man could have ingested poison.
The death of the scruffy, bearded, and bespectacled forensic technician has attracted unusual national attention because of Internet conspiracy theories blaming President Obama for Breitbart’s death. The 43-year-old Tea Party star, who took down ACORN, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and government official Shirley Sherrod, died in Los Angeles on March 1 of heart failure, according to the L.A. coroner’s office.
But despite that conclusion, some of Breitbart’s followers continue to suspect criminality in his death. As the conspiracy theory circulating in the blogosphere goes, Breitbart interviewed Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Feb. 29, the day before the sheriff held a press conference to announce that his investigative team had found “probable cause to believe” the birth certificate President Obama released in 2011 is a forgery. According to infowars.com, Breitbart’s March 1 death, before his planned release of video footage showing a college-age Obama at a Harvard rally, is evidence that Obama is an “advocate of racial division and class warfare.” So, according to the conspiracy theorists, Obama’s revenge for exposing his alleged birth certificate fraud and racism was killing Breitbart.
Then Cormier died April 20, the same day the coroner’s office announced Breitbart’s cause of death, further encouraging the conspiracy theorists. Breitbart, a father of four, had been taking a walk near his home when he collapsed from heart failure, according to test results released by Los Angeles police. Citing Cormier’s work on Breitbart’s autopsy as a red flag, conspiracy theorists in the blogosphere immediately called the forensic technician’s death “suspicious.”
The problem with the “suspicious” Cormier-Breitbart link, law-enforcement officials told The Daily Beast, is that Cormier “had nothing to do with the autopsy ... and wasn’t in the same room.”
“It had nothing to do with that,” LAPD homicide supervisor Det. Rich Wheeler said. “He had nothing to do with the autopsy or anything to do with the case ... That story is based on rumor and innuendo.”
LAPD hazardous materials officers have searched the one-bedroom home Cormier shared with his wife, Sharon, and interviewed his family and friends, but not because of Breitbart, law-enforcement officials said. Cormier was first hospitalized on April 18, complaining of abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Doctors suspected he had a perforated bowel but released him anyway, though not before Cormier told them he thought someone had tried to poison him.
The following day, Cormier’s stomach pain continued, and he was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph’s, where he suffered three heart attacks, according to a law-enforcement source. When an initial toxicology test proved “questionable” and Cormier later died, the hospital notified the coroner’s office.
“We have information that could potentially include foul play,” LAPD Lt. Alan Hamilton said last week. “We are not ruling anything out.”
“He had nothing to do with the autopsy or anything to do with the case … That story is based on rumor and innuendo.”
Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s John Avlon on the death of Andrew Breitbart
That includes natural causes. Sources told The Daily Beast that Cormier had a preexisting heart condition and had worn a heart monitor in the past. As Hamilton pointed out, it is also possible that Cormier accidentally poisoned himself.
On Tuesday, Cormier’s widow responded to a phone call by The Daily Beast by saying: “This is an ongoing investigation, and I don’t know anything! Don’t ever call me again!”
For the moment, Wheeler said the police department is not actively investigating Cormier’s death. “We did our normal investigation that we would do and right now there is nothing else we can do until the coroner makes a determination.”
Cormier worked for the coroner’s office for nearly two decades. He also owned a business called MAC Autopsy Services and starred in a DVD extra for the 2005 horror flick Chaos. The short film Inside the Coroner’s Office: A Tour of the L.A. Coroner’s Crypt, featured the forensic technician showing writer/director Dave DeFalco around the morgue.
A friend of Cormier’s, Arman Belderain, told KCAL9 that he last spoke to Cormier on April 18, the day he admitted himself to the hospital. Belderain remembered his friend as a devout Christian who was “meticulous” at his job and spent time at the cemetery to “soften his heart” after a hard day at the office.
“To get that sense of peace, he would go to the cemetery and spend time with the Lord,” Belderain said.