DENVER – Castle Rock teenager Holly Moore’s 2015 death was correctly ruled as a suicide, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation peer review completed in February and obtained by Denver7.
The review was obtained through a records request to the Castle Rock Police Department that was returned Friday, the same day the forensic pathologist who performed Moore’s autopsy spoke for the first time about the case to Denver7.
Both the documents and interview unveiled new details into the controversial case days before the two-year anniversary of the young woman’s death.
'I have a high degree of medical certainty this was a suicide,’ autopsy pathologist says
Moore’s family has over the past two years pointed to the fact that Douglas County Coroner Jill Romann was not a medical doctor as one of many reasons why they didn’t believe findings from her office that state Moore committed suicide.
But James A. Wilkerson IV, M.D. is the medical examiner who performed Moore’s autopsy the day after she was found dead hanging in a closet inside her apartment. He is the chief medical examiner and coroner for Larimer County but was working for the Douglas County Coroner’s Office on that day.
Moore’s family hired a team of independent forensic medical examiners to investigate Holly’s death which they automatically suspected was a homicide. Through X-rays they discovered her collarbone was broken, which the family and independent medical examiners both concluded happened before her death.
The independent team also argues that the angle in which the electrical cord was wrapped around Moore’s neck was not consistent with a suicide by hanging.
Wilkerson sat down for an interview with Denver7 Friday to discuss his autopsy findings, and says he declared her death a suicide based his medical exam and conversations with investigators.
“[The family and investigators] are questioning everybody who’s involved, and all the different organizations that are involved. But my question is, ‘What do I have to gain by calling this a suicide if it’s not a suicide?’” Wilkerson said. “I mean, I’m looking for the truth, and if somebody did this, then I’m looking to get [the family] justice. But I think that Holly did it herself, and it’s a tragedy.”
The independent medical examiners and family had questioned why Moore’s hand was found caught underneath the cord that caused her death.
Wilkerson said Friday that by his judgment and because of the “lack of findings at the scene” that he believes her hand was only caught by chance.
“The cord was wrapped around her neck multiple times. If she did it, she could have gotten her hand under one of the cords in the process,” Wilkerson said. “But there’s no evidence. If she was trying to pull it off, usually you would scratch and scrape and try to pull that off.”
He said the cord had nothing to do with a struggle against a supposed murderer. He also found no signs of a struggle.
“It tells us that she wasn’t beaten, she wasn’t subdued, she wasn’t manually strangled. There weren’t any marks on her neck that would indicate that she tried to pull the cords off while somebody else was holding them there,” Wilkerson said.
He also said the fact that Moore wasn’t “fully suspended” and that portions of her body were touching the floor led to further indications she killed herself.
“If somebody was doing this to her, she could’ve stood up and relieved the pressure on her neck,” Wilkerson said. “So I don’t think you can say just because of the direction of the marks that it’s a homicide. You have to take the whole case into consideration…rather than just bits and pieces that fit your theory.”
As to the question of why Moore’s collarbone was broken, Wilkerson maintains, as he told the family and independent team, that he broke the collarbone during the autopsy – something he says is standard procedure.
“We cut through the collarbone, through the end of the collarbone, as part of the autopsy,” Wilkerson said. “And we cut through the ribs and both of the clavicles as part of that process. If there was fractures or damage to those, it would be readily evident at the time of the autopsy.”
He also contradicted claims by the independent medical examiners that the coroner’s office avoided doing X-rays in the case.
“We only do X-rays in homicides and in gunshot wounds, and sometimes in stabbings to look for pieces of the knife that might have broken off,” he said. “Usually there’s no real purpose to do X-rays in a hanging.”
Wilkerson also said in the interview, which was noted in his autopsy report on Moore’s death, that the blood vessels in her eyes and face were broken, which he says wouldn’t have happened if she was killed in some other fashion and the hanging was staged.
“We didn’t see any injuries to explain how she could’ve already been dead before the hanging occurred,” Wilkerson said. “There’s just a lot of things that would make you more suspicious that weren’t present.”
Wilkerson says that he could change his judgment on Moore’s manner of death and death certificate if new and compelling information is uncovered that shows she was definitively murdered.
“If you find me more information I’ll take it, and I’ll work with it to reach a new conclusion if that’s what needs to happen,” he said.
But he said he disagrees with the findings of the independent medical examiners.
“I would say that I disagree with their interpretations and that I disagree with their findings,” he said. “For me, it’s a pretty clear-cut suicide.”
Though Wilkerson said it was “common for doctors to disagree,” he has “high degrees of medical certainty” that Moore committed suicide, and says he believes the multiple investigations into the case have resulted in the correct judgment.
“I think several agencies have independently investigated this: The coroner’s office, the DA, the police and now the Colorado Bureau of Investigations have all investigated it and reached the same conclusion, so I don’t feel like my conclusion is wrong,” he said.
Castle Rock hands over CBI peer review of case
Denver7 broke the story on Feb. 22 that the CBI had handed its peer review of the case back to the Castle Rock Police Department and had concurred that Moore committed suicide. The peer review was requested by Castle Rock police on Dec. 24, 2015.
A records request for the peer review, as well as for the full Castle Rock Police Department case, was made to Castle Rock two days later.
Castle Rock police delivered the CBI peer review to Denver7 Friday afternoon.
The peer review, compiled by CBI Agent In Charge Kirby Lewis and finished Feb. 1, says the Castle Rock Police Department “completed a thorough investigation following standard police practices,” and that 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office investigators also found the CRPD investigation was “not deficient.”
Though some names on the report were redacted by the Castle Rock Police Department to keep some of the people interviewed private, the peer review also addresses and refutes some of the claims by the Moore family and the private investigators they hired.
The review says that Lewis and investigators reviewed all the police department’s records on the case, as well as the large file of work done by the private investigators hired by Ray Moore.
Among the new details revealed in the CBI review, Lewis found through new and old interviews that Moore had a history of cutting herself. It describes multiple instances where friends and her ex-boyfriend found her with fresh cut marks on her thighs and wrists.
Her ex-boyfriend also once found her writing a suicide note amid a cutting spell, according to the review, and a friend said Moore had talked about “life being worthless” and that they wouldn’t have been surprised if she had committed suicide.
Lewis also wrote in his review that a bloody t-shirt found on a laundry hamper at Moore’s death scene may have been used to clean up blood from a cutting incident.
He wrote that there were “multiple explanations” of blood and fluid stains uncovered by the Moore family’s private investigators, a conclusion corroborated by another investigator.
The investigator also went through interviews with Moore’s roommate at the time and Moore’s “on and off again” boyfriend at the time – both of whom who were considered persons of interest at one point both by police and by the Moore family.
Lewis even contacted Fort Carson to see if he could corroborate allegations that Moore had been abused by the boyfriend, but after talking with multiple officials, found no reports had ever been filed supporting the claims.
CBI says it is a “by request” agency and is able to investigate crimes involving other agencies when those agencies request their assistance, as Castle Rock Police did in this case.
"March for Justice” to be held Sunday, Moore’s death anniversary
Moore's family will meet on on Sunday to remember her. Her family and supporters of the “Justice for Holly Moore” initiative are holding a “march for justice” to remember her.
The group, which also will include investigators and FOHVAMP members, plans to meet at 1 p.m. near the Factory Outlet Stores and march along the sidewalk around the shopping mall.