An autopsy of the fragmented and decomposed remains of Lori Hacking is inconclusive for both cause of death and pregnancy, according to a medical examiner's report just released to Salt Lake County prosecutors.
"We cannot, of course, release the autopsy report, but we can say that the autopsy confirms the identification of Lori Hacking made through dental records," Deputy District Attorney Bob Stott said Wednesday. "Because of the condition of the body — it was deteriorated — the medical examiner was not able to determine the cause of death."
Hacking's remains were discovered Oct. 1 in the Salt Lake County landfill, 75 days after she was first reported missing. The 27-year-old stockbroker's assistant is believed to have been shot and killed by her husband, Mark Hacking, on the morning of July 19.
Mark Hacking, 28, allegedly confessed the crime to his brothers, saying he shot his wife of five years in the head with a .22-caliber rifle and left the body, the weapon and portions of the couple's bloodied mattress in separate Dumpsters.
The rifle was not found with Lori's remains. Police sifted for weeks through some 4,600 tons of garbage looking for her body — first using cadaver dogs, later officers with pitchforks.
Prosecutors believe Mark Hacking killed his wife because she discovered he had lied about his recent graduation from the University of Utah and plans for medical school in North Carolina.
Mark Hacking is in the Salt Lake County Jail facing a first-degree felony murder charge and two second-degree felony obstruction of justice charges in connection with his wife's death. His next court appearance is Oct. 29.
Lori Hacking's remains were interred in the Orem City Cemetery during a private family ceremony Oct. 9.
The lack of a conclusive cause of death is not an issue for the prosecution, which Stott said has always had a strong case.
"We will continue to pursue the case as we have charged it," said Stott. "The main thing is that we confirmed who it was. It would have been nice to have the other, but we're glad that we got what we did."
State medical examiners did test to see if Lori Hacking was indeed five weeks pregnant, as her husband had told family members on the day he said she disappeared. A sister-in-law said she had seen the results of a home pregnancy test Lori had taken, but police and prosecutors have had no way to independently confirm that statement.
Stott said the condition of the remains — the extent and condition of which he declined to discuss — prevented conclusive test results.
"Again, the medical examiner looked for that but wasn't able to find it," said Stott. "We filed the case without knowing that information, and so we were ready to go on without it, and we will proceed without it."
After more than two months in the landfill, evidence of a pregnancy would likely be impossible to find because of the decomposition of organ tissue, said Dr. Dean Havlik, a forensic pathologist for the Mesa County coroner's office in Colorado.
Havlik conducted the autopsy on the body of Jennifer Blagg, who in 2002 was found in a Grand Junction landfill eight months after she was shot and killed by her husband. Blagg's autopsy was fairly straightforward, Havlik said, because the woman's body was found mostly intact, partially mummified, and a bullet was still lodged in the skull.
But absent such a clear sign of cause of death, the conditions at a landfill and the effect that has on a body can complicate an autopsy, Havlik said.
The compression of a body under the weight of garbage combined with the movement of the body by landfill equipment can impact the quality of remains. In the Blagg case, for example, the corpse showed signs of numerous postmortem fractures, Havlik said, adding that he would expect Utah medical examiners saw the same with Lori Hacking's remains.
Exposure to air, insects, the contents of the refuse pile and weather conditions will also impact the rate of decomposition, he said.
"It all plays a role," Havlik said. "It can definitely hinder (a death determination) pretty significantly."
Sunday, giving a speech during the YWCA's 10th annual Week Without Violence, Lori Hacking's mother, Thelma Soares, said her daughter weighed 115 pounds, but police recovered only 15 pounds of her body from the landfill.
Soares said Sunday that being able to bury her daughter's remains gave her closure. She also said her faith has carried through the ordeal of losing her daughter.
"I believe that beautiful body will rise in the Resurrection and will be whole and perfect," Soares said, as reported in an Associated Press story. "And this is how I am able to face the future."