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Autopsy report: LA publicist was shot in the heart driving home from premiere

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A well-known Hollywood publicist shot to death in November 2010 while driving home from the premiere of the movie "Burlesque" was killed by “multiple gunshot wounds” to the body, according to a long-delayed autopsy report released Thursday by the Los Angeles County coroner. 

Publicist Ronni Chasen was hit four times as she drove home the night of Nov. 16, the report said, including "the most rapidly fatal" shot, which pierced her heart, then passed through the right-sided pulmonary vein and the right lung. A toxicology test found no signs of alcohol or drugs in her system, it said. 

A coroner's investigator, who visited the crime scene immediately after the killing, initially concluded that Chasen, 64, was shot by an unknown suspect who pulled up in a vehicle alongside the publicist’s black Mercedes Benz while it was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive in Beverly Hills. However, further investigation by Beverly Hills police detectives determined that the suspect was on foot or on a bike. 

 After being gravely wounded, Chasen drove her car about a quarter-mile before crashing into a pole. She was pronounced dead a short time later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Harold Martin Smith, who killed himself just as police approached him for questioning him on Wed., Dec. 1, 2010. Jackson County Sheriff via AP

The main suspect in the case, Harold Smith, committed suicide in the lobby of a Hollywood apartment building when police approached him more than three weeks after the slaying to talk to him. 

Detectives went to the residence after receiving a tip from an "America's Most Wanted" viewer. Testing of the revolver Smith used to shoot himself with and said there was a match between the weapon and the one that killed Chasen.

Police officials said at the time they did not believe Chasen and Smith had any connection and that her slaying was a random act. Neighbors told police Smith used a bike to get around and believed he did not have a car. 

Beverly Hills police had blocked the release of the autopsy report until Thursday, citing the protection of the privacy of the Chasen family. 

A source familiar with the case told NBC that police tried to maintain a security hold on the case in perpetuity "to protect the Chasen family." However, after materials pertaining to the case were published in a book called, "Beverly Hills Confidential," lawyers for Los Angeles County advised the coroner's office to release the documents. The release came just weeks after a documentary filmmaker filed a lawsuit referencing the book, saying it was written with the cooperation of the police department. 

The source said that the book by Barbara Schroeder and Clark Fogg contains details which should have been only available to investigators in the case or the coroner's office. Fogg, the co-author, is a senior forensic specialist at the Beverly Hills Police Department. The book included graphic photos of the Chasen crime scene, ballistics photos and pictures of Smith after he killed himself. One of the photos showed Smith splayed out on the floor with a gun in one hand and blood around his body. 

The source said the book also raised questions about why the police department continued to maintain a security hold on a document that could have been made public. "Their investigation was essentially closed," the source said. 

Officials of the department, which had declared the case closed in 2011, did not immediately return calls for comment.

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