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Inmate Dies in Custody, Homicide or Suicide?

Updated: Wednesday, December 4 2013, 10:39 PM EST
BROWN COUNTY, Ohio (Rich Jaffe) -- Zachary Ryan Goldson died in the Brown County jail early in the morning of October 5th.

A jail employee found him hanging from a bed sheet.  While that may automatically sound like a suicide, the Brown County Coroner has ruled his death a homicide.

That has a lot of people asking how and why?  Local 12's Rich Jaffe has the story on this unusual case.

There's no love lost between the Brown County Sheriff's office and the coroner, Dr. Judith Varnau.

Rich Jaffe has talked before about the on-going feud between the two offices, based largely on the fact that Varnau's husband is a political opponent of Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger and has filed multiple lawsuits against him.

While Dr. Varnau told Rich Jaffe Wednesday there's nothing political about her ruling on Goldson's death, others see it differently and are waiting for the results of the state investigation into Goldsons' death.

Zachary Goldson was in the Brown County jail on charges of having a weapon under disability, possession of dangerous ordnance and shooting across a roadway.

During his incarceration authorities say he swallowed a flexible pen; believed harmless it's given to inmates.

Goldson bragged to inmates and jail employees that he could bring the pen back up at will, a trick he said he frequently used with drugs.

It didn't work.

Instead in the hours before he died he was taken multiple times to area doctors, never indicating to anyone that he had suicide on his mind.

Brown County Chief Deputy John Schadle said, "And he'd been to see three doctors that day due to a medical issue and none of them had any indication, nor has any of our corrections people when he was booked in or during the time he was here."

Shortly after one of those visits, Goldson was found hanging from a sheet, tied to the sprinkler head in his cell.  The Brown County Coroner has ruled his death a "homicide, due to strangulation" saying he died "within minutes" from a "ligature around his neck."

While the coroner Judith Varnau didn't want to talk on camera she told Local 12 there's, "No way Goldson could have tied the knot that killed him," also saying the sheet was too far off the ground for him to reach it.

Complicating the issue is the fact that during one of the doctor visits to the hospital the night before he died, Goldson attempted to escape and got into a fight with a deputy in front of witnesses.  The deputy allegedly threatened him while they were fighting.

At the time of Goldson's death, sheriff's investigators immediately called in the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation to take their own look at the circumstances.  While not able to comment until those results are in, the Chief Deputy said this, reading from a prepared statement:

"The BCSO has full confidence that BCI will reach their conclusions based on facts, not someone's political agenda."

The coroner assures Rich Jaffe there's nothing political in her findings; however, if BCI comes back and rules Goldson's death a suicide, this death certificate filled out by Dr. Varnau becomes an even more significant issue.

A judge could be asked to force the coroner to change her findings on an official document and Rich Jaffe is told a special prosecutor has already been selected to do that.

There's no time frame on when results of the state investigation will be announced, but Local 12 will keep you posted on the developments.

Video HERE
Inmate Dies in Custody, Homicide or Suicide?

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