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Claim Filed Against San Diego County Over Man's Poisoning

Crime: The victim's family says the coroner's office failed to supervise a former toxicologist who is now accused of killing her husband.

July 24, 2001|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A wrongful-death claim has been filed against San Diego County in the case of a former coroner's toxicologist accused of using her expertise to poison her husband and trying to cover up the crime.

The claim, filed by the family of the victim, Gregory de Villers, accuses the coroner's office of failing to properly supervise the suspect, Kristin Rossum, and of misdiagnosing de Villers' death as a suicide.

Such claims often precede a lawsuit. County officials were not available for comment Monday night.

Prosecutors say Rossum, 24, killed her 26-year-old husband because he had threatened to tell the county coroner, Dr. Brian Blackbourne, that she was using methamphetamines, stealing drugs from the coroner's office and having an affair with her supervisor, chief toxicologist Michael Robertson.

Police say Robertson, who has returned to his native Australia, is a suspect but has not been charged.

The claim says the coroner's office hired Rossum, the daughter of two professors, without conducting a background check.

Despite the fact that she was "a known drug abuser," Rossum "was put in charge of the logbook for the toxicology lab evidence locker, which contains street and deadly drugs," the claim says.

According to the claim, Rossum began an illicit affair with Robertson, whose complicity gave her easy access to methamphetamines and other drugs in the locker.

Despite being told about Robertson's affair with Rossum, Lloyd Amborn, administrator of the coroner's office, authorized the payment of their hotel expenses while they traveled together to a conference in Milwaukee, the claim says.

"During that trip . . . in October of 2000, Robertson and Rossum saw a presentation of an article discussing the use of Fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine," the claim states.

"The presentation and article revealed cases in which Fentanyl was overdosed, resulting in unintentional death or suicide," the claim continues. "Moreover, Robertson knew that the San Diego County medical examiner's office did not routinely check for Fentanyl in death cases involving suspected drug overdoses."

Police say that on Nov. 6, Rossum stole Fentanyl from the evidence locker and--possibly introducing the powerful painkiller through a drug-soaked patch--killed her husband as he slept.

Prosecutors say Rossum then tried to cover up her crime.

She authorized the removal of his organs for transplantation, court documents say. Sections of his skin were taken for use in grafts on burn victims. Both actions made it more difficult to determine the cause of death, the claim says.

Rossum claimed that her husband killed himself because of despondency over her affair.

"The office of the medical examiner intended to quickly release the body to its chief toxicologist's lover, Rossum, for immediate cremation," the claim continues. "But the protestations of the family and friends of Gregory de Villers, the intervention of the Police Department at the family's request and a court order prohibiting the [cremation] of Mr. de Villers' remains put an end to what would have been a near-perfect crime."

Rossum, who has pleaded not guilty, will face a hearing Oct. 9.

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