Evidence inconclusive on Otto Warmbier being tortured in North Korea: Coroner

PHOTO: Otto Frederick Warmbier, shown at a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, February 29, 2016. PlayKyodo via REUTERS
WATCH Otto Warmbier was 'blind and deaf' when he returned to US from N. Korea, parents say

The Hamilton County coroner said that there is not enough evidence to determine that Otto Warmbier was tortured, despite comments his parents made Tuesday discussing his waning condition when he was returned from North Korea.

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Otto Warmbier died on June 19, just six days after he was evacuated from North Korea, where he had been arrested for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster in January 2016. He was later convicted in a one-hour trial and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss the findings of the coroner's report on Warmbier's death, saying that his body was considerably "well nourished" considering he had been bedridden for more than a year, and that the 22-year-old would have had to receive "'round-the-clock" care.

But on Tuesday, his parents appeared on Fox News' "Fox & Friends," saying he was tortured. “It looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers of rearranged his bottom teeth," Fred Warmbier said.

Sammarco said there was "no evidence of trauma" to Warmbier's teeth. When asked by a reporter whether he could have been tortured, she responded, "We don't have enough evidence...to draw any complete conclusions." Investigators only documented a few smalls scars to his body, and did not find evidence of any healing fractures that would have happened while he was in North Korea, Sammarco said.

"We don't know what happened to him. That's the bottom line," Sammarco said. "...We're never going to know, unless the people who were there come forward and say, 'This is what happened to Otto.'"

PHOTO: Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco speaks during a news conference regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student Otto Warmbier, Sept. 27, 2017.John Minchillo/AP Photo
Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco speaks during a news conference regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student Otto Warmbier, Sept. 27, 2017.

The coroner's report lists Warmbier's death as resulting from complications of chronic anoxic encephalopathy, which involves a loss of brain function due to brain tissue being deprived of oxygen. The manner of death was undetermined, but Sammarco said it could have happened naturally had he undergone cardiac arrest.

Fred Warmbier said Tuesday that his son "was jerking violently, making these inhuman sounds," when he was returned, but Sammarco said his condition was likely caused by "chronic brain damage."

"When you're not familiar with patients who have that kind of brain damage, I think it's going to be alarming," she said.

Warmbier’s father also said that his son was deaf, blind and was "staring blankly into space."

When asked by a reporter for her thoughts on the statements made by Warmbier's parents Tuesday, Sammarco said, "They're grieving parents."

PHOTO: Fred and Cindy Warmbier watch as the casket for their son Otto is placed in a hearse after his funeral in Wyoming, OH., June 22, 2017. Bryan Woolston/AP Photo
Fred and Cindy Warmbier watch as the casket for their son Otto is placed in a hearse after his funeral in Wyoming, OH., June 22, 2017.

Warmbier's parents were told that their son had contracted botulism after his trial, and never woke up after he was given a sleeping pill.

After his death, Warmbier's parents declined an autopsy. Sammarco said the coroner's office felt that "nothing was going to be gained" by performing the autopsy, and they honored the family's wishes.

A virtual autopsy was performed instead, which does not involve making cuts to the body, Sammarco said.