updated 3/29/2007 10:00:19 PM ET 2007-03-30T02:00:19

A cousin of a 72-year-old gay man whose death became a national focus for gay rights advocates said Thursday she rejects a medical examiner's finding that he died of natural causes.

Wayne County Medical Examiner Dr. Carl Schmidt said Wednesday that Andrew Anthos died of injuries likely suffered in a fall, and that the evidence did not support reports that he had been attacked. Detroit police announced that they were closing the case.

Anthos died Feb. 23, 10 days after relatives say he was beaten by a young man who called him a gay slur, followed him off a city bus and hit him in the back of the head with what Anthos thought was a pipe.

"If you want to say he wasn't murdered, OK. But you can't say he wasn't attacked, that it wasn't a hate crime," said Anthos' cousin Athena Fedenis.

Fedenis, who talked to Anthos in the hospital, said he was trying to help a friend whose wheelchair was stuck in a snow bank when he was attacked.

Detroit police spokesman Leon Rahmaan said investigators interviewed Anthos and his friend, who told police he thought Anthos may have been attacked but did not see it. The witness heard a noise, turned and saw Anthos on the ground, Rahmaan said.

The witness helped police create a composite sketch of the man he saw, but no suspect has been found.

Fedenis also disputes Schmidt's findings that Anthos' only injury was a two-inch bruise on the back of his head.

"Could (Anthos) have been wrong about the pipe? Probably. It could have been the guy's fist," Fedenis said. "But what was the size of a softball behind his left ear? It was a cut, a gash. ... If he was never struck, this wouldn't have happened."

A message left Thursday for Schmidt was not immediately returned.

Open, but not an activist
Anthos was openly gay, but not a gay-rights activist. Lawmakers, reporters and others in Lansing knew him for his 20-year campaign to illuminate the state Capitol dome in red, white and blue one night a year in honor of police officers, veterans and others.

In death, Anthos has become a symbol in a campaign to amend federal and state hate-crime laws to protect gays.

The Triangle Foundation, a gay-rights advocacy group based in Detroit that has been counseling the family, said the case should remain open. It said that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

"We absolutely believe that there was an attack based on (statements), especially Mr. Anthos' account," said Melissa Pope, the group's director of victim services. "It was based on the fact that he was gay, and therefore, a hate crime."

However, the American Family Association of Michigan in a statement called on Detroit police to investigate who may have been involved in the filing of what the Midland-based conservative group called "the filing of a false police report."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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