Small lacerations on the palms of Elliott Smith's hands, which appear to be defensive wounds, coupled with his girlfriend's removal of the knife that killed him, are among the reasons why the singer/songwriter's death in October could not be ruled a suicide.
Such knowledge became public Thursday when the Smoking Gun posted the complete coroner's report online. The medical examiner wrote that those facts, along with live-in girlfriend Jennifer Chiba's "subsequent refusal to speak with detectives" are of concern and raise the possibility of homicide.
While not pointing a finger directly at Chiba, the report is changing the way some people look at the woman who reported finding Smith stabbed just after noon on October 21.
Chiba, however, wants to make clear that Smith's death was a suicide (see "Singer/Songwriter Elliott Smith Dead; Friends, Fellow Musicians Pay Tribute"). She objects particularly to the words "refusal to speak with detectives" because she claims to have spoken several times to investigators from the coroner's office and LAPD, who are continuing their investigation. The report itself states that she spoke with police on the day Smith died.
Although she hasn't been charged with a crime or questioned recently by police, Chiba said she feels like a suspect in the court of public opinion. "Up until now I've chosen to remain silent because I want to maintain some sense of privacy for Elliott and his family and myself in this really difficult time," she said Friday (January 9). "And I want people to know that I'm not keeping quiet because I have anything to hide.
"If I was a suspect, I would have heard from the investigators, for one thing," she continued. "Another is that his sister and his parents and everyone close to him knows the truth, so I'm not worried about it."
Chiba said she was physically sick when she realized that the complete report — made public Tuesday, six days after the inconclusive findings were announced (see "Cause of Elliott Smith's Death Still Unclear, Coroner Says; No Illegal Drugs Found") — was online. "I felt Elliott's privacy and dignity in being able to die were violated," she said.
While the coroner's report broached the subject lightly, some media accounts of the story were more incriminating. "Other magazines and publication are just looking for some sort of sensationalistic angle that will sell their publications," Chiba vented. "In my mind, there's no question to what happened and there's no need to put that kind of spin on it.
"It's absolutely not my fault. I know that, and people close to Elliott know that."
Besides the palm lacerations, there did not appear to be any hesitation between the first and second stab wound, which both occurred through his clothing — adding to the coroner's inability to determine Smith's last moments.
According to the report, Chiba told police she and Smith had had an argument and she locked herself in the bathroom. After hearing Smith scream, Chiba said, she emerged from the bathroom to find him standing up with a kitchen knife sticking out of his chest. She pulled the knife out, and Smith walked away, only to collapse shortly after. Chiba called 911 at 12:18 p.m. and performed CPR and first aid at the direction of the 911 operator.
After paramedics had taken Smith to the LAC/USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:10 p.m., Chiba was questioned by police. It was then that she found what appeared to be a suicide note written on a Post-It. It read: "I'm so sorry — love, Elliott. God forgive me."
In noting this, the coroner’s report had misspelled “Elliott ” as “Elliot,” a typographical error confirmed by the coroner’s spokesperson.
When speaking with police, Chiba noted Smith's history of addiction to heroin and crack, though she claimed he was clean for more than a year, a claim also made by many of Smith's friends. Toxicology tests on the body found no presence of illegal narcotics. She also told police of Smith's longtime struggles with depression, claiming he would mutilate and burn himself with cigarettes and had often spoke of suicide.
LAPD detective James King would not comment on the pending investigation.
For more on Smith, check out the feature "Elliott Smith: One Of Us Is On The Moon."
Joe D'Angelo, with additional reporting by Gideon Yago