More than three years after Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen was fatally shot in Beverly Hills, the L.A. County coroner’s office released the autopsy in her case that reveals new details about the high-profile slaying.
The report shows that Beverly Hills police initially believed Chasen was killed in a drive-by shooting as she drove her Mercedes home after a film event. Police later concluded it was actually a random attack carried out by a transient riding a bike.
Beverly Hills police said Friday that detectives requested that the coroner’s file remain private for all this time out of respect for Chasen’s family. The report was released as part of a settlement between a documentary filmmaker who had sued Los Angeles County for access to the report.
“Based on the circumstances, the coroner felt that no legitimate reason remained to maintain the security hold, so the hold was lifted and the document released,” Craig Harvey, an official with the coroner’s office, said in an email.
Chasen was killed Nov. 16, 2010, as she was driving home from a movie premiere after-party about half an hour after midnight. Witnesses found the 64-year-old publicist slumped over the steering wheel of her black Mercedes-Benz coupe, which had crashed into a light pole.
Homicide detectives originally suspected that Chasen was at a red light at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive when someone drove up next to her and fired four shots through her passenger window, the report states.
After being struck by gunfire, she then made a left turn and drove for about a quarter of a mile before she crashed, according to the report.
Beverly Hills Fire Department paramedics took Chasen to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where doctors attempted to revive her. She was pronounced dead at 1:12 a.m.
The autopsy found that bullets had pierced Chasen's heart, a pulmonary vein and other internal organs. Two bullet wounds were also found in her back.
The case stretched from days to weeks as investigators interviewed witnesses that included friends and associates of Chasen. Search warrants were served at her home and workplace.
Three days after the shooting, the mayor of Beverly Hills publicly floated the theory that Chasen had been shot from another vehicle. But as the investigation continued, the initial theory shared by police in the coroner's report changed.
Investigators got a break three days after Chasen’s death was reported on TV's "America’s Most Wanted" on Nov. 20, 2010. A man told an operator that someone he knew was claiming to be involved in the shooting.
The tip led investigators to Harold Martin Smith, a 43-year-old former convict. Smith shot himself in the head when investigators attempted to question him Dec. 1, 2010.
He was suspected of shooting Chasen after a botched attempt to rob her while on his bicycle, although police said they found no indication that he had entered her car.
Smith was subsequently linked to Chasen’s murder after ballistics tests showed the handgun he used to shoot himself was the same weapon used to kill Chasen, officials said.
When Beverly Hills Police Chief Dave Snowden announced the preliminary results of the investigation, some expressed skepticism that the shooting could have been a random attack.
But the investigation led by Sgt. Mike Publicker “reviewed in excess of 150,000 emails and texts belonging to the victim and investigated thousands of tips received on the Police Department’s hotline,” according to the department.
Investigators reviewed thousands of financial documents belonging to Chasen, recovered video and closed-circuit TV footage and conducted numerous interviews with family, friends, professional contacts and others, officials said.
The Beverly Hills Police Department released a statement Friday, saying it was “proud” of its investigation and that it stood by its final conclusion in the case. The department also called for privacy for the Chasen family.
“The Police Department has always been sensitive and protective as to privacy and feelings of the Chasen family and others who have been victims of such a tragedy,” the statement read. “We have great respect for the friends and family of Ms. Chasen; we are hopeful that others will continue to respect their privacy."
Times staff writer Ari Bloomekatz contributed to this report.