MURPHYSBORO — The circumstances that led a 21-year-old woman to die from a gunshot wound to the head 10 months ago are as unclear as ever following an inquest performed this week, and what the next turn will be in the high-profile and mysterious case remains just as elusive.
Following about 45 minutes of deliberations Thursday, Jan. 31, a coroner’s jury ruled the cause of death of Marion High School graduate Molly Young undetermined due to a lack of evidence, bringing little closure to her story but revealing a host of fresh details to the public that cast new light on the final hours of her life.
During about two hours of testimony, Illinois State Police investigators painted a vivid picture of a woman wrestling with depression and suicidal thoughts whose final moments, despite all of that, ended with a level of ambiguity that made labeling it a suicide apparently impossible for the six-member coroner’s jury.
Emergency medical technicians and Carbondale Police responded shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday, March 24 to the Carbondale apartment of Richie Minton, Young’s on-and-off boyfriend and a dispatcher with the Carbondale Police Department. Because of Minton’s employment status, the investigation quickly was handed to the Illinois State Police.
ISP Special Agent Aaron Cooper testified Thursday that in the 24 hours preceding her death, Young exchanged a series of bleak text messages with Minton and his roommate, Wesley Romack, in which she admitted a desire to end her life and confessed to attempting a drug overdose March 23. Analysis of her computer revealed that she had searched that day for information about suicide, Cooper said.
Young had been depressed for much of the preceding year after having thyroid surgery, Cooper said, and she also had undergone a non-surgical abortion about two weeks prior to her death. Police also found journals in her car and bedroom at home in which she detailed an extensive history of depression and suicidal thoughts. They also found an undated suicide letter.
Young indicated in text messages sent late that Friday evening that she “must have passed out before I could overdose” and that she wished it had worked. Young’s mother last saw her around 10 p.m., when Young reportedly went to bed after having felt ill.
Meanwhile, Minton went out with friends that evening to a Carbondale bar, where witnesses said he ordered a pitcher of Captain Morgan and Coke and drank much of it on his own. The group left the bar and went to one of the other’s homes, where Minton exhibited notable intoxication, at one point falling over the coffee table. Eventually, one member of the group drove him back to his apartment, where he was left on his own.
Cooper said that a few minutes before 3 a.m., Minton called Young’s phone, and he also texted her that he needed help; her grandmother said Young left the house where she lived with her mother and grandmother shortly after that. Just before 4 a.m., Young texted Romack, who was at work, and told him she was at the apartment because “Richie wants help.”
What happened next is unclear, but at about 4:40 a.m., Young texted Romack, saying “I think I’m going to shoot myself in the head.” Romack came home from work at about 5:30 a.m. to find Young’s purse and shoes in the living room. He then peeked into Minton’s room and found him apparently sleeping under the covers. Romack went to his room, stayed up for about an hour and then went to sleep. Investigators pegged the time of death somewhere between Young’s text and Romack’s arrival home.
Minton was scheduled to work that morning at the Carbondale Police Department, and beginning just after 8 a.m., his phone received a series of missed calls and text messages asking where he was. Minton told Carbondale Police, the first on scene that morning, that he woke to find Young’s body on his bedroom floor, told his roommate she had overdosed and that Romack needed to call 911.
Minton said he then tried to perform CPR when he realized she had sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Radio archives obtained by the Times show that EMTs responding to the scene believed they were heading to an overdose. When Carbondale Police arrived, Cooper said, Minton was exiting his bathroom.
Trooper Daniel Glover testified that when ISP investigators arrived, they found Young’s body on the floor between Minton’s bed and the north wall of his small bedroom, her blood spattered on the floor and a nearby closet door. Investigators also found traces of blood on Minton’s bed comforter, the muzzle of the .45-caliber pistol belonging to him and a pair of his pajama pants found in the bathroom.
Cooper said Young’s head appeared to have landed near the closet door, but the body had been moved. Testing was unable to identify any fingerprints on the gun or any gunshot residue on either Minton’s or Young’s hands. Minton said he had been asleep and found Young’s body when he awoke in the small bedroom. “We thought that was unusual,” Cooper said, but he added that Minton’s level of intoxication, plus a possible muffling effect the apparent contact between her head and the gun could have caused when it fired, might have allowed him to sleep through it.
According to a copy of the coroner’s report obtained by the Times. Carbondale Police secured the scene and told Deputy Coroner Jeff Wisely when he arrived at 9:50 a.m. that it was a crime scene and he could not enter; he wasn’t able to for about seven hours. Minton already had retained a lawyer, Terry Green, by the time ISP investigators arrived at the Carbondale Police Department to interview him, and Minton has not spoken to police in the 10 months since Young’s death occurred. His parents also were at the Police Department that morning. Young’s parents did not learn of their daughter’s death for several more hours.
The Times also obtained a copy of Young’s autopsy report, which says the bullet entered Young’s head 2.25 inches above her left ear, 1.5 inches above the left eyebrow and 2.5 inches from the midline. The track of the bullet was backward and “slightly downwards.” The jury on Thursday questioned whether the right-handed Young would have shot herself with the left hand, especially given the downward trajectory.
“I have not personally had experience with that, but it is not out of the realm of possibility,” Cooper said.
Toxicology reports showed Young tested positive for a level of the anxiety drug Lorazepam that fell well below the therapeutic range. She also tested positive for antihistamines that fell within the therapeutic range. Aside from caffeine, no other substance was found in her system.
Charles Lamont, who spoke on behalf of the family at the inquest, noted that investigators had reviewed some of Young’s social-media postings but asked whether they had seen a Son of Sam reference Minton had posted not long before Young’s death that read, “And huge drops of lead poured down upon her head until she was dead.” Cooper said they were aware of that March 3 posting to social network Tumblr. The family also asked questions about the time of death, what Minton was doing in the bathroom when Carbondale Police arrived and about the location of the wound on her head. The family was allowed just three questions during the inquest.
On Friday, Young’s father, Larry Young, posted in a Facebook group following the case that the inquest had provided an incomplete survey of the evidence.
“During the inquest not all of the forensics and facts in the case were told to the jury,” Young wrote.
Minton, who was not at Thursday’s proceeding, previously has told the Times that he is not able to comment on the case.
Following the jury’s determination this week, what happens next remains unclear, although the decision of whether or not to prosecute the case, or bring it before a grand jury, rests with Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Carr. Carr could not be reached for comment Friday but previously told the Times the case “warrants attention from me” and that he is likely to make a determination sometime next month.