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Brittany Murphy's parents feud over poisoning reports

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 6:58 PM EST, Mon November 25, 2013
On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was leaving a boxing event in Las Vegas when he was shot multiple times. Six days later, he was dead at 25. He left behind an ever-increasing fan base, a catalog of music and one of culture's most persistent mysteries. The presumption is that his death was caused by the <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2011/SHOWBIZ/Music/06/16/new.york.tupac.shooting/index.html' target='_blank'>volatile East Coast/Wast Coast rap war of the era</a>, a feud that held Tupac and New York rapper Notorious B.I.G. as its avatars. Although nearly every fan has his or her own theory on who was involved in the young talent's death, his murder remains unsolved. On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was leaving a boxing event in Las Vegas when he was shot multiple times. Six days later, he was dead at 25. He left behind an ever-increasing fan base, a catalog of music and one of culture's most persistent mysteries. The presumption is that his death was caused by the volatile East Coast/Wast Coast rap war of the era, a feud that held Tupac and New York rapper Notorious B.I.G. as its avatars. Although nearly every fan has his or her own theory on who was involved in the young talent's death, his murder remains unsolved.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mother calls claim Brittany Murphy was poisoned a publicity stunt by her father
  • Sharon Murphy accuses daughter's father of trying to profit from actress's 2009 death
  • "I am at the very end of my life. Money means absolutely nothing to me," father tells CNN
  • Lab analyst says strand of hair indicates Murphy died from poisoning

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Brittany Murphy's mother attacked the "Clueless" actress' father for suggesting their daughter died from poisoning.

The controversy began last week with a lab report suggesting that the presence of 10 heavy metals in a strand of her hair was evidence of a poisoning death four years ago.

A forensic pathologist told CNN last week that the poisoning conclusion was "ridiculous" and "baseless."

It's erupted into a public name-calling battle this week between Murphy's father, who sent the hair strand to a private lab for testing, and her mother, who wrote a scathing response published Monday in The Hollywood Reporter .

"I have no choice now but to come forward in the face of inexcusable efforts to smear my daughter's memory by a man who may be her biological father but was never a real father to her in her lifetime," Sharon Murphy wrote.

She said Angelo Bertolotti's claims "are based on the most flimsy of evidence and are more of an insult than an insight into what really happened."

Murphy accused Bertolotti of trying to profit off his daughter's death with the publicity surrounding the poisoning reports even though he hadn't seen her in the last three years of her life.

"They want to do a documentary and write a book, and this whole stunt is merely publicity to fuel their aspirations," she said, referring to Bertolotti and a partner.

Her father was not part of her life past her first year, she said. "He certainly wasn't around during the 12 years he spent in prison on three criminal felony convictions. Throughout her childhood, I was Brittany's only parent and sole support."

Murphy's father, in a response to CNN, said the mother's "ghostwritten piece is riddled with mistakes."

"I am at the very end of my life," he told CNN Monday. "Money means absolutely nothing to me."

It's Sharon Murphy, not him, who has used the death to make money by starting a foundation and announcing a book, Bertolotti said. "I have nothing to gain here, while Sharon has lived a life of luxury. Before Brittany supported (still does) her mother, I was supporting Sharon."

He disputed Sharon Murphy's claim that their daughter chose not to have contact with him when she was a child and later as an adult. Sharon Murphy and Bertolotti divorced three decades ago.

"How is it that I am pictured with my daughter in her childhood and adulthood, if she supposedly cut me off in childhood?" Bertolotti said. "I have a normal and close relationship with all of my children and they are open about that. There has never been a 12 year gap in the photos of Brittany and myself. I have quite a few of them online."

The Los Angeles County coroner ruled pneumonia killed Murphy, 32, in December 2009, and that her husband, Simon Monjack, 39, died from the same illness five months later. The similarities between their deaths -- in the same bedroom of their Hollywood Hills home -- prompted a search for answers beyond natural illness.

"It's very suspicious," Bertolotti told HLN last Tuesday. "I feel she was poisoned and there's no question about that. She was murdered."

He said he had a murder suspect in mind, but declined to elaborate. "I do, but I'd rather not speak about that."

CNN obtained the report by forensic toxicologist Ernest Lykissa, who concluded that the hair from the back of Murphy's head had higher than recommended levels of 10 heavy metals.

"If we were to eliminate the possibility of a simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure to the sample donor then the only logical explanation would be an exposure to these metals (toxins) administered by a third party perpetrator with likely criminal intent."

Lykissa, who operates a toxicology testing lab in Deer Park, Texas, did not respond to several calls from CNN to discuss his findings.

The director of forensic medicine at the University of Florida, who is also the president of the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, reviewed the lab report for CNN and was very critical.

"It's ridiculous," Dr. Bruce Goldberger said. A conclusion of poisoning is an "inflammatory statement" that "is a baseless allegation and outrageous statement to make based on a single hair test."

Murphy's autopsy revealed no physical signs of poisoning, he said. "A hair test alone, without any clinical signs or symptoms, cannot be used to establish poisoning."

The private report also showed a normal level of arsenic, which would have been elevated if rat poisoning was involved, he said.

"She was a beautiful woman and likely had numerous hair treatments," Goldberger said. "Chemicals in the hair treatment would alter the chemistry of her hair sample."

Sharon Murphy said she also consulted with forensic experts who discredited the lab results.

"This report conveniently ignores what any good scientist will tell you: A hair sample can be affected by many outside factors, including hair dye, hair spray, prescription medications, foods, smoking the occasional cigarette and environmental factors," she wrote.

The Los Angeles coroner "has no plans to reopen the inquiries into the deaths of Miss Murphy or Mr. Monjack," Craig Harvey, the chief of operations for the coroner, said last week. "We stand by by our conclusions and opinion."

Murphy's mother said she suspects a toxic mold found in the house may have killed her daughter and son-in-law.

"There were no indicators that it was from mold," Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told CNN in July 2010.

"We will never know for sure," Sharon Murphy wrote in Monday's story. "However, we do know the Los Angeles County Coroner did extensive tests and found that she died of natural causes."

Monjack's autopsy concluded that his May 23, 2010, death was caused by acute pneumonia and severe anemia, "just like Brittany," Winter said.

Murphy died December 20, 2009, from a combination of pneumonia, an iron deficiency and multiple drug intoxication, a coroner said. The drugs involved were legal and are used to treat respiratory infections, according to an autopsy.

Monjack, a British screenwriter, married Murphy in 2007.

She was an often bubbly, free-spirited actress who appeared in films such as "Clueless," "8 Mile," "Don't Say a Word" and "Girl, Interrupted."

She also lent her voice to animated works, including the movie "Happy Feet" -- in which she also sang -- and a regular role on the animated TV series "King of the Hill."

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