Idaho murders: Former medical examiner disputes coroner's toxicology claims

A renowned forensic pathologist and former medical examiner told Fox News Digital the toxicology reports for four slain University of Idaho students could hold potential clues to the unsolved case.

"From the toxicology, you could learn a great deal about where the decedents were during the hours before their death, what, if any, drugs they were taking, their state of mind," Dr. Michael Baden said. "Did they take drugs that could have caused them to sleep and not wake during the encounter?"

Baden's comments came in response to Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt's statements in an exclusive interview last week with Fox News Digital dismissing the tests, which had not come back from the lab yet, as irrelevant to the college killings. 

The Moscow Police Department declined to comment Friday on whether toxicology reports are still pending.

More than a month has passed since Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle were stabbed to death in their rental home near campus Nov. 13 between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Mabbutt said the students were ambushed in their sleep with a large knife. 

Moscow Police, working with the FBI and the Idaho State Police, have yet to name a suspect or recover the fixed-blade knife they believe was used in the shocking slayings.

Baden pointed out that Mabbutt, whose handling of the case has come under fire, is a coroner and not a medical doctor. Mabbutt, an attorney with her own law office in town, used to work as a nurse and was elected coroner in 2006.

Her main role is to determine the cause and manner of death based on autopsy reports issued by a pathologist with the Spokane Medical Examiner's Office.

Idaho murders: Coroner weighs in on toxicology reports, describes her role in case

The Moscow coroner, who also happens to run her own law office in the center of town, said the toxicology reports for four slain University of Idaho students aren't relevant to the case. 

Baden said the toxicology probably won't have any bearing on the cause or manner of death — homicide by stabbing — but could offer other insights.

"These days there are literally hundreds of drugs looked for in toxicology that are new and different because of all the fentanyl and methamphetamine-like drugs coming from different sources," he said. "Certain drugs are used in Washington versus Idaho, and this could offer clues about where they were or who they were with before they died."

Urine, blood and stomach contents are often tested as part of a toxicology report, Baden added. "Maybe one of the victims had their food spiked," he said. "This would be a significant piece of evidence."

Baden described the system of using coroners in parts of the U.S. as an archaic relic from British colonial rule.

Retired Los Angeles Police Det. Mark Fuhrman agreed with Mabbutt's conclusion.

"They were attacked with a knife, and they basically bled to death. Toxicology wouldn't affect that no matter what they ingested," Fuhrman said. "I'd put my money on there being alcohol in all four victims' systems. … What conclusions can you draw from that?"

Fuhrman criticized Mabbutt for sharing details of the autopsy with the victims' families.

"She should stop talking," Fuhrman added. "She has never done an autopsy. She doesn't understand the value of the autopsy information to police. She should not have talked to anybody about the injuries of any of the victims."

Kaylee Goncalves' father, Steve Goncalves, told Fox News Digital he was upset Mabbutt shared grisly details of Kaylee's injuries with his underage daughter.

Mabbutt also shared details of the other victims’ injuries with him, which he felt was inappropriate. Mabbutt declined to comment.

Police are asking the public to call in tips at 208-883-7180, email tipline@ci.moscow.id.us or submit digital media here.

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