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Gazette Premium Content Philip Seymour Hoffman autopsy inconclusive, further tests needed

Associated Press Updated: February 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm

NEW YORK — Four people were taken into custody on drug charges after police investigating Philip Seymour Hoffman's death executed search warrants, two people with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday, and the medical examiner's office said more tests are needed to determine what killed him.

There was no timetable for Hoffman's autopsy to be finished, said medical examiner's office spokeswoman Julie Bolcer, who declined to discuss the pending tests. Toxicology and tissue tests are typically done in such cases.

Police believe the Oscar-winning actor may have died from a drug overdose, though his death is being investigated as suspicious pending a more definitive ruling by the medical examiner.

Hoffman was found dead Sunday with a needle in his arm, and tests found heroin — but no traces of the potent synthetic morphine additive fentanyl, which is added to intensify the high and has been linked to 22 suspected overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania — in samples from at least 50 packets in his apartment in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, law enforcement officials have said.

The four people were taken into custody Tuesday night after police executed search warrants at several city apartments based on a tip provided by a confidential source that they may have supplied Hoffman with drugs, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because investigators have not obtained evidence to corroborate the reported connection.

Police say undisclosed quantities of heroin and marijuana were found in three apartments in a lower Manhattan building. The four suspects, three of whom live in the building, face charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance. Two also face charges of criminal use of drug paraphernalia. They were awaiting arraignment.

The New York Police Department hasn't officially announced a connection between the arrests and the Hoffman investigation.

The NYPD has launched an intensive effort to determine the source of drugs in Hoffman's apparent overdose even though courts have found that under state law drug dealers can't be held liable for customers' deaths.

A 1972 state appellate division case found a dealer can't be found guilty of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide for selling heroin and syringes to a customer who later dies because, the court ruled, legislation enhancing punishment for drug crimes didn't redefine homicide to include the sale of an illicit drug that results in death.

And holding a drug dealer criminally liable for a customer's overdose death could prove difficult for the district attorney's office, said James Cohen, a Fordham University School of Law professor who runs a clinic that represents federal criminal defendants.

"It's not just enough that you know, if you will, theoretically or academically, that heroin could kill," he said.

Former NYPD detective Scott Prendergast, who worked on the high-profile investigation into the 1996 heroin overdose death of Jonathan Melvoin, a keyboard player with the rock band Smashing Pumpkins, said it's not uncommon for investigators to track down dealers following suspected overdose deaths especially when the drugs are stamped with telling names.

Some of the packets found in Hoffman's apartment were variously stamped with the ace of hearts and others with the ace of spades. Melvoin was said to have used heroin called Red Rum.

Investigators have determined that the "Capote" star made six ATM transactions for a total of $1,200 inside a supermarket near his home the day before his death, law enforcement officials have said. Investigators are examining a computer and two iPads found at the scene for clues and recovered syringes, a charred spoon and various prescription medications, including a blood pressure drug and a muscle relaxant, law enforcement officials have said.

Hoffman's relatives have planned a private funeral for Friday.

On Wednesday night, Broadway theaters were to dim their lights in memory of the Tony Award-nominated actor, and members of the theater community planned to hold a candlelight vigil.

___

Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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