CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago police investigating the mysterious cyanide death of a lottery winner questioned his widow for more than four hours and searched their home but have not said whether she is a suspect in the poisoning.
Shabana Ansari's attorney said Wednesday that she was subjected to a long session of questioning at a police station in November and detectives searched the family's two-story home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city's North Side. Attorney Steven Kozicki said Ansari maintains she had nothing to do with the July death of her 46-year-old husband, Urooj Khan, and he has no indication that detectives might be looking at her as a potential suspect.
"I wouldn't use the term suspect," he said. "... In any case where a husband dies in that manner, sure they're going to talk to the spouse. That's what they've done. ... I believe that she had nothing to do with his death. She vehemently says that she had nothing to do with his death."
Police have not spoken publicly of any suspects or put forward a possible motive for what they now believe was an intentional poisoning. Authorities initially ruled the death a result of natural causes, but when a relative came forward with suspicions they conducted a comprehensive toxicology screening that showed Khan was poisoned with a lethal dose of cyanide. They then reclassified the manner of death as a homicide.
Khan died just days before he was to collect $425,000 in lottery winnings.
Ansari spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday at one of the dry cleaning businesses her husband started. She said she cannot believe her husband had enemies and she has no idea which family member asked authorities to take a deeper look into his death. Authorities have refused to identify the relative.
Ansari would not talk about the circumstances of her husband's death, saying it was too painful to recall. She said only that he fell ill shortly after they ate dinner together.
"I was shattered. I can't believe he's no longer with me," the short, soft-spoken Ansari said tearfully.
She described Khan as a hard-working and generous man who sent money to orphanages in their native India.
"I don't think anyone would have a bad eye for him or that he had any enemy," she said, adding that she continues to work at the dry cleaning company to honor her husband and protect the businesses he built.
Khan had planned to use his lottery winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and make a donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Ansari said her husband did not have a will and the money is now tied up in probate.
She said she hopes the truth about her husband's death will come out and that she can't recall anyone unusual or suspicious coming into their lives after the lottery win became public.
Authorities plan to exhume Khan's body in the next few weeks in hopes they might be able to test additional tissue samples and bolster evidence if the case goes to trial. Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said he did not believe additional tests would change the conclusion that Khan was a homicide victim.
"Based on the investigative information we have now and the (toxicology results), we're comfortable where we are right now," he said.
Ansari, 32, moved to the U.S. from India after marrying Khan 12 years ago.
Both were born in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, and their story is a typical immigrants' tale of settling in a new land with big dreams and starting a business. They lived with Khan's 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, who is a student in the United States.
"Work was his passion," Ansari said of her husband, adding that she plans to stay in the U.S. and keep his businesses running.
"I'm just taking care of his hard work," she said.
She recalled going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with her husband in 2010. One of Islam's pillars requires every able-bodied Muslim to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.
She said her husband returned even more set on living a good life and he stopped buying the occasional lottery ticket.
Nonetheless, he couldn't resist buying one for an instant lottery game in June while at a 7-Eleven near his home. It was a $1 million winner.
Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, it amounted to about $425,000, lottery spokesman Mike Lang said. The check was issued on July 19, the day before Khan died.
Some other states allow winners to remain anonymous, but Illinois requires most winning ticket holders to appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to prove that the state pays out prizes. Khan's win didn't draw much media attention, and Lang noted that press events for $1 million winners are fairly typical.
"We do several news conferences a month for various amounts," he said.
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.