Image: Casket of Gerald Washington
Alex Brandon  /  AP
A service was held for Mayor-elect Gerald Washington in Westlake, La., on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, after his body was exhumed. Authorities have called his death a suicide.
updated 3/7/2007 5:49:17 PM ET 2007-03-07T22:49:17

The body of the first black man elected mayor of this mostly white town was exhumed Wednesday for a third autopsy, commissioned by relatives who believe he was murdered and not a suicide as authorities have said.

Gerald Washington was found dead Dec. 30, 2006, with a gunshot to the chest, his gun nearby.

No suicide note was found but autopsies by both the state police and the local coroner concluded that Washington killed himself. The district attorney has said he plans to close the case.

However, Washington’s family hired renowned forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform a third autopsy.

After the exhumation and a memorial service Wednesday, the body was to be taken to Pittsburgh for the autopsy at Wecht’s lab, said Lawrence Morrow, a spokesman for the Washington family.

An unusual move
Wecht said a third autopsy is highly unusual in any circumstance.

“I have been involved in less than a handful in 45 years where a third autopsy is done. Yes, that is rare,” he said in a telephone interview.

Washington’s widow, Mary, has said she believes her husband was murdered and that the killing was covered up as part of a conspiracy.

Washington, 57, won with 69 percent of the vote last year over a white candidate. He had not yet taken office when his body was found in the parking lot of a former high school, his alma mater.

Wecht has worked as a consultant on cases including Elvis Presley’s death and the slayings of JonBenet Ramsey and Laci Peterson. Last year, he performed an autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith’s 20-year-old son.

Westlake is 80 percent white, a refinery town with a population of 4,500, about 140 miles east of Houston.

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