When Carol Hurley was found dead at her home in rural Shelbyville on Oct. 21, the cause of her death was unclear. On Tuesday, a coroner's jury ruled the 60-year-old's death a homicide.
Chief Deputy Coroner Brad Phegley testified in a Shelby County courtroom Tuesday that he entered Hurley's home just before 6 p.m. Oct. 21 and found her lifeless in the bathroom. She was sitting in the bathtub, her back against the faucet and her head tilted to the side.
With what he'd been told by family members, Phegley initially didn't suspect foul play.
But autopsy and toxicology results led a Bloomington forensic pathologist to suspect otherwise. Dr. Scott Denton said he believed Hurley "died of a traumatic means."
He said he found serious head injuries, including a "goose-egg"-sized swelling at the back of her skull. The trauma to her head had caused bleeding in the brain, he said.
A deep bruising on the neck and burst eye vessels pointed to a choking attempt, Denton said. Eye vessels can also burst if a body is face-down, the forensic pathologist explained, but Hurley was sitting upright.
Hurley had epilepsy and used barbiturates, according to testimony. But the widespread, serious injuries didn't seem like the result of seizures, Denton said. Toxicology results showed a minor amount of drugs, including a barbiturate and a seizure medication. Those trace amounts weren't enough to cause an overdose, however.
After deliberating, the coroner's jury read its verdict:
"Her death was the result of blunt forces and asphyxiate injuries which occurred due to or as a result of assault. Her death was ruled as a homicide."
Family members struggled with the testimony and verdict. Shelby County Coroner Brian Green said they were "beside themselves." A cousin, stepping out of the courtroom, said "this isn't the closure I wanted."
"It was extremely shocking," said Maggie Hurley, Carol Hurley's daughter. "We didn't know any of that. I'm sad and scared that whoever did this is still out there."
Green said that police have been investigating Hurley's death. No charges have been filed, he said.
Maggie Hurley said her mother was unpredictable, persevering, and generous.
One year, after a snowstorm caused a power outage, Carol Hurley gathered Maggie and son Andrew under a blanket to play a game.
"We would try and say everyone's name we knew backwards," Maggie said. "Just to pass the time and make us laugh. ... When we were kids, she could always make boring situations fun."
A 1975 graduate of Shelbyville High School, Carol Hurley spent more than 30 years as a singer, model, actress, and dancer before she returned to Shelbyville in the early 2000s and continued creative pursuits locally.
For years, health issues plagued Carol Hurley.
"She was in a lot of pain both physically and mentally," Maggie Hurley said. "She struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember but always tried pushing on even when her depression was at its worst — something I always admired. She had chronic pain from migraines, fibromyalgia, lupus, and two herniated discs in her back but never let it completely stop her."
One of Maggie's favorite memories with her mother dates back to when she was a teenager and they were living in Los Angeles. They had just attended a Jim Brickman Christmas concert and were driving home, taking the long way. As they went, they sang along with their favorite Christmas album and were "just feeling good."
"It was a magical night that I will always treasure," Maggie Hurley said. "We didn't have a lot but we always had each other. We were the Hurley Girlies, and I knew no matter what I did or where I went I would have her: my best friend, my partner in crime, my mommy."
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