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Coroner chides police in hammer homicide

CROWN POINT, Ind. -- A county coroner Thursday accused local police of bungling an investigation when they ruled the death of a man struck on the head 32 times with a claw hammer was a suicide.

'Suicide with a hammer is a forensic curiosity, a rarity,' Lake County Coroner Daniel Thomas told a news conference.

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'There are easier ways to commit suicide.'

The Hobart Police Department this week reopened their investigation following the release of a report by state police that ruled cancer victim James Cooley, 52, was killed by another person April 6, 1985.

Prosecutor Jack Crawford said pathological evidence 'establishes that the amount, location and severity of the hammer blows are inconsistent with the finding of suicide.'

Hobart police originally determined that Cooley's death from 32 blows to the head was self-inflicted. Police investigators based their conclusion on findings by a blood-splatter expert who said it appeared Cooley was alone in a room when he died.

'They don't know how to investigate a homicide,' Thomas said of the Hobart Police Department. 'I would not trust their credibility ... and the qualifications of their officers.'

Thomas declined to say whether police had a suspect, but said, 'I feel I do have a suspect in my own mind.' He refused to identify the person.

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Thomas also said he doubted the story by Cooley's wife, Diane, that she was gone during the 2 -hour period when the wounds were inflicted. He said the medical evidence indicated Cooley had been dead at least four hours.

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