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The Final Moments of Elliott Smith’s Life 

Autopsy reveals details of argument with girlfriend

Thursday, Jan 8 2004
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Moments before he died, singer Elliott Smith argued with his live-in girlfriend, who said she found him screaming outside the bathroom door of their Echo Park apartment, with an 8-inch kitchen knife stuck in his chest, according to an autopsy report.

The report, released this week by the L.A County Coroner’s Office, reveals new details about the investigation into the death of the 34-year-old musician, who died October 21 from two stab wounds at the Lemoyne Street home. Coroner’s officials said last week that they couldn’t determine whether Smith committed suicide or was the victim of homicide.

According to the January 6 report, Smith’s girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, told police that she and Smith were arguing when she locked herself in the bathroom. She said she heard Smith scream, opened the bathroom door and found him standing with his back to her. When he turned around, she told police, she saw the kitchen knife in his chest. She said he was standing up, conscious and gasping for breath. She told police that she pulled the knife out of his chest and saw "two cuts" before he walked away and collapsed.

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She called 911 at 12:18 p.m. and performed CPR and first aid with a dispatcher’s help until paramedics arrived. Smith died at County-USC Medical Center 78 minutes later.

Police officers arrived and questioned Chiba, who was seated at the kitchen table. Detectives reported that she pointed out a Post-it note that appeared to be a suicide note left on the table. The note said: "I’m so sorry — love, Elliot God forgive me." Chiba told police that it was in Smith’s handwriting. The girlfriend could not be reached for comment.

LAPD Homicide Detective Jay King would not comment on the investigation and would say only that the case is still open.

Smith’s body had bruises on the right elbow and what appeared to be older marks on his right arm, left thigh and along his left shin. No track marks or cut marks were found on his wrists.

Deputy Medical Examiner Lisa Scheinin, in the autopsy report, wrote that Smith had a history of depression and that the wounds appeared to be consistent with suicide. However, she found that "several aspects of the circumstances (as are known at this time) are atypical of suicide and raise the possibility of homicide. These include the absence of hesitation wounds, stabbing through clothing, and the presence of small incised wounds on the right arm and left hand (possible defensive wounds)."

Coroner’s investigators also raised questions about the actions of Chiba, and why she removed the knife. "Detectives believe that this death is possibly suspicious, however, the circumstances are unclear at this time," according to the report.

The singer, who was born Steven Paul Smith, had been battling depression, drugs and alcohol for years, and had attempted suicide in 1997. Chiba told police that Smith often talked about committing suicide and had a history of addictions, including heroin, crack and alcohol. She said Smith engaged in self-mutilating behavior and would burn himself with cigarettes. Chiba told authorities that Smith had been drug-free for one year.

The coroner found no traces of illegal substances or alcohol in his system. The coroner did find prescribed levels of antidepressant and attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder medications in his system, including clonazepam, mirtazapine, atomozetine and amphetamine (the latter a byproduct of metabolizing the drugs).

Smith was born August 6, 1969, in Omaha, Nebraska, and began his career in Portland, Oregon, where he played in a punk rock band called Heatmiser. In 1994, he released his first album, Roman Candle, and later signed with DreamWorks, putting out XO in 1998 and Figure 8 in 2000. In 1998, Smith was nominated for an Oscar for best original song for "Miss Misery," from the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting. At the time of his death, Smith was working on his sixth album, known by its working title, A Basement on the Hill.

Reach the writer at cpelisek@laweekly.com

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