Brittany Murphy poisoning claims queried by toxicologist

New evidence presented by the father of the late star suggesting that Murphy was murdered has been questioned by a leading toxicologist

A prominent US toxicologist has cast doubt on a lab report suggesting the former Hollywood star Brittany Murphy was poisoned.

In comments first reported by The Wrap, Bruce Goldberger said traces of heavy metals found in a sample of the late actor's hair could be explained by hair treatments. He also cast doubt on the legitimacy of a claim by an organisation earlier this week that Murphy was "poisoned by a third party perpetrator with likely criminal intent".

Goldberger, who is director of forensic medicine at the University of Florida and president of the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, spoke out after Murphy's father Angelo Bertolotti cited lab results from the internet-based Carlson Company in an apparently successful bid for the Los Angeles county coroner's office to re-evaluate Murphy's death. When the star of Clueless and Eight Mile died in December 2009 it was widely reported that a number of prescription drugs had been found in her system, with many media outlets painting a picture of a troubled star driven to despair and ill health by her failure to secure acting work.

Nevertheless, Goldberger said the Carlson Company was wrong to suggest that Murphy might have been murdered. He described the Los Angeles coroner as a "thorough" lab that had done "good work" on the case.

"Brittany Murphy was a beautiful young lady when she passed away and I'm certain that she had multiple hair treatments," said Goldberger, who reviewed both the report and Murphy's initial autopsy report from the coroner. "The hair treatments themselves can alter the chemistry of the hair sample. Your hair is like a sponge. It is susceptible to external contamination from the environment."

He added: "It is not appropriate to put those sorts of [criminal intent] comments on a laboratory report. That statement cannot be supported without the proper corroborating evidence."

The Wrap suggests Murphy's hair was tested by a legitimate laboratory, Texas-based ExperTox, after her father asked the coroner to send a sample to the Carlson Company. ExperTox declined to comment, saying the relevant toxicologist was on holiday, but a spokesman for the Carlson Company told The Wrap: "It's a bona fide report. It was our client's prerogative to release the report. That's all I can tell you."

The LA coroner has said it will look into reopening the investigation into Murphy's death once it receives the lab results from her father. A spokesman told The Wrap it did not test the actor's body for heavy metals because there had been no sign of poisoning.

After Murphy's death at the age of 32, the coroner concluded that pneumonia was the cause of death, with "anemia and prescription drugs [playing] a role". Her husband, Simon Monjack, died five months later, also of natural causes.

Murphy's father yesterday reiterated his claims on the TV show Good Morning America. "I have a feeling that there was definitely a murder situation here," said Bertolotti during an interview. "Yeah, it's poison. Yes, yes, I know that."

• Brittany Murphy: full coverage


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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