Coroner's Final Report Attributes Katie Wilkins' Death to Heroin Overdose But Says Classification Remains Undetermined
• Ruling Leaves Room to Question Administration of Fatal Drugs and Possibility of Duress
BY ANNE SOBLE
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner's autopsy report on the death of Katherine Jessie Wilkins, who died April 28 at the Malibu family home she had moved back into a year ago, the official cause of death was acute morphine (heroin) intoxication.
However, according to a copy of the document obtained by the Malibu Surfside News that is still to be officially released, the coroner's department did not rule on the classification or context of the death of the 25-year-old everyone called Katie, which remains undetermined.
Because of the complex toxicology and DNA analysis involved in the Wilkins autopsy, the report took almost four months to complete. In light of the information about preliminary tests and the presence of recent injection marks, the heroin overdose determination was not unexpected.
There had been no anticipation either way on whether the coroner's department would rule on the classification or modality of the death from the choices of natural, suicide, homicide, accident or "could not be determined," the latter of which is the designation for Wilkins.
According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Homicide Detective Tim O'Quinn, "The reason for this mode as opposed to 'accidental' is that there is no way with present facts in hand to determine if the lethal dose was self-injected or injected by another person."
The issue of self-injection is relevant because the last person known to have been with Wilkins, and whose fingerprint was found near a door not far from her body, is Chris Benton, 27, the son of Andrew Benton, the president of Pepperdine University. A criminal attorney who has told the LASD he will not allow his client to make a statement is representing Chris Benton.
Barring any additional incriminating information, O'Quinn maintains that Benton cannot be brought in for questioning. The detective said his hands are tied, and, "for the same issues/reasons as those listed in the coroner's report, and because Katherine had a known prior history of heroin use, [he] will be forced to close the LASD case shortly as there is 'insufficient evidence of a crime having occurred.'"
Members of Wilkins family question this LASD stance because they say the young woman was "clean from illegal drugs for over a year" and her prior behavioral issues should not preclude a full investigation of all relevant leads.
However, the chief detective on the case responds, "At this time, we simply do not have enough facts and/or evidence in hand regarding what occurred at the Wilkins residence on the night of April 27 to bring about a filing of criminal charges."
Knowing that this stance may not sit well with many in the Malibu community and might be perceived as special treatment for the offspring of a prominent citizen, O'Quinn stresses, "The fact is that the 'proof beyond any reasonable doubt' standard of justice protects all of us from illegal criminal prosecution. In this particular case, as unpopular a reality as it may be to Katherine's family, myself, and to many others, Chris Benton ends up benefiting from this standard as well."
The detective submits, "One can only hope that Chris Benton will one day do the right thing by this wonderful family and end his silence and tell them the truth about what took place that night."
Wilkins' parents Robert and Diane share that hope. They say they have made repeated attempts at outreach to Benton and his family that have been rebuffed. They ask why someone wouldn't be willing to discuss a child's last hours with parents unless there was some form of criminality, such as having provided and administered the drugs?
Wilkins' parents also say they cannot understand why, if Benton was with their daughter when she commenced an overdose reaction, he did not seek medical assistance. Diane Wilkins adds, "There was a landline phone within several feet of her body. Whoever was with her could have dialed 911 anonymously before they left the scene and Katie might be alive today."
Wilkins was bright and attractive. At times, the Malibu High School graduate battled difficult but not uncommon personal demons for young people, but she had recently received a degree with honors from the Art Institute of California in Orange County and hoped to become a graphic designer.
Any aspirations ended on the fateful Saturday at the end of April when Steve Wilkins found his sister's lifeless body on the floor of the garage of the family home.
Since then, Steve Wilkins has kept up an unending drumbeat of requests that Chris Benton step forward and tell the LASD and the family what he knows.
The devoted big brother has always cut to the chase in his comments. "Chris is Katie's last known contact. I believe Chris should have been named a suspect in her death as soon as the investigation revealed signs that Katie was dragged and left dead in the garage with her car and car keys missing."
He added, "Regarding Chris's response to being asked to cooperate with the investigation and/or speak with my family; I'm not convinced that an accidental heroin overdose requires the thorough and absolute secrecy I've witnessed from Chris. If it does, I'd like to know why, and I'd like to know how he was afforded his lawyer and rehab stint directly following Katie's death…I don't want anything other than the truth."
The Wilkins family is now working on plans to honor their daughter that will bring some meaning to her death. Diane Wilkins says, "We are looking for a way to do good and make a difference while we wait and hope that one day we will have answers to all of our questions."
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS—The county coroner has ruled the official cause of death for Katie Wilkins to be heroin overdose, but left the door open for the possibility that the drugs were not self-administered because of the location of needle marks and her opposing handedness. In light of numerous bruises on Wilkins' body, the use of force in the administration of the lethal drugs has not been ruled out.