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Cricket coach death not murder
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By Rohan Powell

KINGSTON, Jamaica - In an embarrassing reversal, Jamaican police said Tuesday that Pakistan's cricket coach died of natural causes and was not strangled following his team's surprise World Cup loss this spring.

Officials closed the homicide investigation into the death of Bob Woolmer after getting opinions from three independent pathologists from Britain, South Africa and Canada and reviewing a toxicology report, Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas told a news conference.

Thomas did not reveal what they believe caused the death of the 58-year-old coach, saying that would be up to Jamaica's coroner to issue at a later time.

The announcement ended a globe-spanning investigation in which authorities interviewed nearly 400 people and collected dozens of DNA samples and fingerprints from potential witnesses, including members of the Pakistan cricket squad and other teams.

Woolmer was found unconscious on March 18 in his hotel room in Kingston a day after his heavily favored team was eliminated from the World Cup in a humiliating loss to Ireland.

Authorities first said a preliminary autopsy was inconclusive, but on March 22 announced Woolmer had been strangled, setting off a media frenzy.

"It happened in a hotel which was full of the world's media and at every step of the way, everything became subject of media speculation," said Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields, a former Scotland Yard investigator who led the Woolmer inquiry.

Some reported Woolmer had been drugged, possibly with champagne laced with a weed killer or an ancient poison called aconite. That supposedly would have explained why there was no sign of forced entry or struggle in the hotel room.

Thomas said Tuesday that the toxicology reports found otherwise.

"No substance was found to indicate that Bob Woolmer was poisoned," he said.

Early in the case, newspapers and Web sites reported that Woolmer could have been targeted for his plans to release a book exposing the truth about allegations of match-fixing that have long plagued the sport. His family quickly dismissed the reports, saying the coach and former player had not received any threats and hadn't written anything that would place him in danger.

Police had said days after Woolmer's death that a Jamaican pathologist, Dr. Ere Seshaiah, found a broken bone in the coach's neck, suggesting strangulation. But Shields said Tuesday the other autopsies found no such fracture.

The coach's widow, Gill Woolmer, welcomed the announcement and thanked Jamaican police.

"My sons and I are relieved to be officially informed that Bob died of natural causes and that no foul play is suspected in his death," she said in a statement from their home in Cape Town, South Africa. "We hope that this matter will now be closed and that our family will be left to grieve in peace."

The Pakistan Cricket Board expressed "great satisfaction" with the resolution of the case, saying it would come as a relief to Woolmer's family, his team "and the people of Pakistan, who all have been feeling greatly distressed by the rumors that have been clouding the cricket world since this sad incident."

But former player Intikhab Alam accused Jamaican police of "mishandling" the case.

"They should not only apologize to the Pakistan Cricket Board but to the whole nation," Alam told The Associated Press.

The Pakistani players had suffered "insinuations that they had thrown the match and because the coach was going to blow the whistle, they had strangled him," Khan said on CNN.

"For one month they went through a living hell. The Pakistan team came back and literally hid from the public. The players went into depression. ... I'm afraid someone has to be answerable and someone has to be responsible for this," Khan said.

The cricket board "must ask for damages and certainly a big apology," he said.