Police used video to rule out homicide in Cornell case

George Hunter
The Detroit News

When Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was found on the bathroom floor of his suite in the MGM Grand Detroit, investigators didn’t immediately rule out homicide as a possibility, according to a Detroit Police source with knowledge of the investigation.

Evidence found at the scene early Thursday, including the way Cornell’s body was positioned, and the red rubber exercise band secured tightly around his neck, suggested he had committed suicide, the source said.

That’s what the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled later Thursday, that the cause of Cornell’s death was “suicide by hanging.” The rocker’s family has disputed the finding that he intentionally took his own life.

Medical examiner spokeswoman Lisa Croff said Monday that the office had no new information on Cornell’s case.

To rule out the possibility that someone else had killed Cornell, 52, detectives pored through the hotel’s surveillance video, which was trained on the corridor outside his 11th floor room. They found nobody had entered or exited the suite after his bodyguard left around 11:35 p.m. Wednesday night, according to the source.

The last person to see a victim alive is generally considered a person of interest in a potential homicide case, but because Cornell’s door was locked from the inside, investigators concluded the bodyguard, Martin Kirsten, could not have killed him and gotten out of the room, which had no other exits, the source said.

Kirsten told police he briefly visited his boss’s suite to fix his computer shortly after Soundgarden wrapped up a show Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre. According to a timeline provided by the singer’s wife, Vicky Cornell, and a police report obtained by The Detroit News, she spoke with her husband a few minutes after Kirsten left the room.

Vicky Cornell said her husband was slurring his words, sounded groggy and kept repeating: “I’m just tired,” according to a family statement and the police report. She said she called Kirsten after the conversation with her husband and expressed concern about the singer’s demeanor. She asked Kirsten to check on Cornell, according to the police report and Vicky Cornell’s statement.

Kirsten told police he walked two doors down to Cornell’s room about 12:15 a.m. Thursday. When his knock wasn’t answered, he tried his room key, but found the door was locked from the inside, the report said.

Kirten called security from a phone on the wall, “stating he needs to get into the room to check on victim,” the report said. Security staff denied his request, so Kirsten kicked in the door, only to find a second door leading to the bedroom suite also was locked.

“At this time (Kirsten) kicked in the bedroom door and found victim laying on the bathroom floor with blood running from his mouth and a red exercise band around (his) neck,” said the report, filed by a Detroit Police Gaming Unit officer who responded to the scene.

It’s unclear why security staff didn’t open the door for Cornell, or whether that’s prohibited by the hotel’s security protocols. A spokeswoman for MGM Grand said officials aren’t commenting about the case out of respect for Cornell’s family.

Kirsten called security after finding Cornell on the floor. A casino medic responded at 12:56 a.m. and attempted CPR. Police officers from Gaming Unit 1, and EMS Med 42 came to the room at 1 a.m., and emergency medical technicians unsuccessfully attempted CPR. A casino officer notified a sergeant at the 3rd Precinct, which has jurisdiction over the neighborhood that includes the MGM Grand.

At 1:30 a.m., Cornell was pronounced dead by a doctor who arrived at the scene.

Cornell’s body was flown to California on Sunday, with a private funeral planned for Friday.


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