Cause of death for physicist unclear

/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities still do not know the cause of death for a renowned Oak Ridge physicist who was beaten in the head with a fire extinguisher and then set on fire.

But the autopsy provide enough information for Knox County to file murder charges against her son in the case.

Yurdanur Akovali's charred body was discovered two months ago in a DeKalb County field, about 95 miles west of Knoxville. Her son, Gordan Evren Ellis, was accused in the killing, but a second-degree murder charge had been on hold pending a decision by state Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Levy on when and where Akovali died.

Levy couldn't determine a cause of death following an autopsy, Assistant District Attorney General Steve Garrett said Tuesday in Knox County General Sessions. But Levy did rule out the torching of Akovali's body as the cause and Ellis will be tried in Knoxville, he said.

Police say Ellis, 33, gave a statement admitting he bashed his mother's head with a fire extinguisher on April 1 at a home she owned in Knox County. Ellis then loaded Akovali, 72, into a car and drove her to a remote area near Baxter, where he set her body on fire, the arrest warrant charged.

Levy's preliminary conclusion on cause of death was that Akovali was still alive when her son drove off with her body. He then ruled out fire as the cause of death, Garrett said, adding that the medical examiner suspects asphyxiation as the cause. But Garrett says there is no proof Ellis strangled his mother.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will examine the car to determine whether carbon monoxide may have ultimately killed Akovali, Garrett said.

Also on Tuesday, Sessions Court Judge Charles Cerny ordered a mental evaluation for Ellis, who has been hospitalized in the past for mental problems and believed he was controlled by the CIA.

Akovali began working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1967 and retired as a full-time researcher in 2001, lab spokesman Billy Stair said. She then worked in the Physics Division as a guest researcher and also had a research appointment at the University of Tennessee.


Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,