NEWS
11/09/2011 09:15 EST | Updated 01/09/2012 05:12 EST

Arturo Gatti Death: No Evidence Boxer Was Murdered, Says Quebec Coroner

AP

MONTREAL - For more than two years, the question of how retired Canadian boxing champ Arturo Gatti died in a Brazilian resort town has been debated by law enforcement, scientists and lawyers.

A long-awaited coroner's report from Quebec, released Wednesday, suggests the debate may never completely end.

The report into Gatti's 2009 death says there's no "clear and hard evidence" that a third party was involved in his death and suggests suicide remains a plausible explanation.

But it leaves open some ground for debate.

The report says Brazilian authorities mishandled the crime scene, clumsily moving around evidence and making it impossible to draw a definitive conclusion.

Since his July 2009 death, how Gatti met his end has been probed by Brazilian authorities, a U.S. private investigative team hired by the late boxer's entourage, and three North American TV networks working on a joint investigative project.

Authorities in Brazil contend that Gatti committed suicide. But U.S. experts convened by Gatti's manager came to an opposite conclusion — that someone killed him.

The TV documentaries were slightly more neutral: they concluded that while the case was shrouded in mystery, Gatti had exhibited signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.

Quebec coroner Jean Brochu now says there is no hard evidence that anyone killed the Montrealer nicknamed "Thunder," suggesting suicide as a likely explanation.

He falls short, however, of drawing a clear conclusion.

Brochu's verdict, after performing an autopsy and viewing the Brazilian files: Gatti died a "violent death" with the probable cause listed as asphyxiation by neck constriction, and there was no indication of foul play.

"Much of the debate surrounding the circumstances of the death revolved around the question of whether a third party was involved in Arturo Gatti's death," Brochu wrote.

"The conclusion of the Montreal pathologists to the effect that there is no clear evidence of foul play in Mr. Gatti's death means I cannot dismiss the formal (suicide) conclusions reached by the authorities of the country, (Brazil), where it occurred."

The Quebec coroner's office was asked to investigate when the late boxer's family demanded a second autopsy, following his sudden death in an apartment he and his family had rented in the Brazilian seaside resort of Porto de Galihnas.

Brochu said the Brazilian police investigation simply did not meet the standards of Canadian policing. He said incomplete information and a poorly guarded crime scene raised a number of questions.

"The methods used by Brazilian investigators in examining the scene of Arturo Gatti's death can raise doubts, and so (I believe) that the circumstances of death cannot be determined with certainty," Brochu wrote.

Brochu conducted his own autopsy on Gatti's body, which had already undergone one in Brazil and had been in an embalmed state.

He consulted with Martin Laliberte, an expert toxicologist, who looked at the results and noted the presence of Carisoprodol in Gatti's system — a muscle-relaxant drug not available in Canada but widely used elsewhere.

Laliberte said the drug is well known for its addictiveness and has frequently been involved in past cases of death and suicide.

The drug can have withdrawal symptoms in users that last from several hours to several days and they can include anxiety, confusion and psychosis.

While the presence of the drug may not be directly responsible for Gatti's death, Laliberte wrote that its presence in his system raises a number of questions about his state at the time.

In an interview, Brochu noted that Brazilian authorities said Gatti had committed suicide by hanging from a banister using a purse strap.

Authorities there tested a 35-kilogram weight attached to the strap, which snapped in five seconds. But authorities failed to explain how Gatti's 70-kilogram body had managed to remain suspended long enough to cause his death.

"There is no rational or satisfactory explanation to how this happened," Brochu said.

But Brochu also cast doubt about the results of an investigation done by private investigators in the U.S. at the behest of Gatti's former manager Pat Lynch. That probe ignored key elements of the Brazilian investigation, he said.

Brochu said the U.S. investigation failed to address the presence of post-mortem skin discolouration on Gatti's body, meaning that he'd been clearly suspended for some time.

Some of Gatti's friends and relatives say they cannot believe he would have committed suicide.

But the coroner noted that, in his two-decade career, he has often seen family members shocked and unaware that a loved one had suicidal tendencies.

The family has become involved in a nasty legal dispute with the boxer's widow over his inheritance, in a case before a judge in Montreal.

Amanda Rodrigues, the widow, was originally arrested in connection with Gatti's death. But she was eventually released when an investigation determined suicide was the cause of death.

Her lawyer said Wednesday that she hopes the report puts an end to the speculation about her involvement in the death.

"She's very pleased with the coroner's report. She's not surprised at all," said lawyer Pierre-Hugues Fortin in a phone interview.

"She always maintained that she was not involved in her husband's death, she claimed (this) in essence from the beginning, so in this respect she's very pleased."

He said Rodrigues was also satisfied with Brochu's comments on the U.S. report shortcomings.

"She hopes that the coroner's report — a truly impartial investigation as opposed to the private one — will effectively put to an end the debate over the death of her husband," Fortin said. "Whether in Canada, the United States or anywhere else in the world, that is her true wish."

The Gatti fortune is the subject of legal disputes not only in Canada, but also in the U.S.

Calls to Gatti family representatives and their lawyer went unanswered on Wednesday.

Gatti was a popular junior welterweight champion who retired in 2007 with a career record of 40 wins and nine losses.