Cibolo Creek Ranch owner recalls Scalia’s last hours in Texas
John MacCormack, Staff Writer David Saleh Rauf contributed to this report
A first-time guest to the Cibolo Creek Ranch, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was animated and engaged during dinner Friday night, as one of three dozen invitees to an event that had nothing to do with law or politics, according to the ranch owner.
Just hours later, he would be found dead of apparent natural causes, which media outlets were reporting Sunday was a heart attack.
“He was seated near me and I had a chance to observe him. He was very entertaining. But about 9 p.m. he said, ‘it’s been a long day and a long week, I want to get some sleep,” recalled Houston businessman John Poindexter, who owns the 30,000-acre luxury ranch.
When Poindexter tried to awaken Scalia about 8:30 the next morning, the judge’s door was locked and he did not answer. Three hours later, Poindexter returned after an outing, with a friend of Scalia who had come from Washington with him.
“We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled,” said Poindexter.
“He was lying very restfully. It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap,” he said.
Scalia,79, did not have a pulse and his body was cold, and after consulting with a doctor at a hospital in Alpine, Poindexter concluded resuscitation would have been futile, He then contacted federal authorities, at first encountering a series of answering services because he was calling on a weekend.
“Ultimately they became available and handled it t superbly. They flew in by helicopter. They told me to secure the ranch, which I did until this morning,” he said.
Scalia was just the latest newsworthy guest to visit the celebrity hideaway that covers 30,000 acres near the Chinati Mountains. Mick Jagger, Julia Roberts and Tommy Lee Jones have also partaken of its scenic vistas and luxury accomodations.
Established in 1857 by Milton Faver, known as the first Texas cattle baron west of the Pecos, the ranch retains 19th Century constructions, including “El Fortin de Cibolo,” a primitive fort designed to protect settlers from Apaches.
In a special guest package offered last month, rooms went for $545 to $565 a night for two people, with a meal package and ranch tour included. Other activities include hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching and ATV tours.
Scalia, who was scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, had little time to avail himself of the ranch’s offerings. Poindexter said he had only met Scalia once before briefly, in Washington. Scalia came to the ranch because he was friends another guest.
Poindexter said he knew the other guests.
“All the guests were friends of mine, I paid for all of them. There were no politics, no jurisprudence in the slightest,” he said.
“This was strictly a group of friends that the judge decided to join. He was coming with his son who had to drop out for reasons I don’t’ know.
“It was an honor to have him. He was widely admired. There were no speeches. He wasn’t asked any hard questions, it was all about the outdoors and Texas, and what it’s like to being a Supreme Court Justice,” he said.
Scalia’s personal financial disclosures show no previous trips to the ranch. The disclosures, posted on OpenSecret.Org show that the justice made several trips to Texas since 2005 to speak at colleges and universities, including St. Mary’s University in 2008.
Poindexter, 71, said Scalia’s sudden death was both a “personal tragedy” for those at the ranch, and for the nation.
“All of us here saw him as a stalwart defender of our way of life in Texas, in a real sense,” he said.
“It’s a great loss. Having made that statement, if it was his time to go, he was surrounded by friends, in fairly nice setting, with a full tummy too. He said he was very happy to be invited so it could have been in worse circumstances,” he said.
“It’s caused all of us here to stop and think about life, how precious it is, and how it is so unexpectedly lost,” he added.
The body of the Supreme Court justice was moved to an El Paso funeral home early Sunday.
The body was driven from Marfa and arrived around 2:30 a.m. at Sunset Funeral Homes, according to spokesman Chris Lujan.
Lujan said the funeral home was chosen by family of the justice, and at the advice of a family friend.
The El Paso County medical examiner’s office said they hadn’t received any infomration regarding the possibility of performing an autopsy.
The death of Antonin Scalia: Chaos, confusion and conflicting reports
In the cloistered chambers of the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia’s days were highly regulated and predictable. He met with clerks, wrote opinions and appeared for arguments in the august courtroom on a schedule set months in advance.
Yet as details of Scalia’s sudden death trickled in Sunday, it appeared that the hours afterward were anything but orderly. The man known for his elegant legal opinions and profound intellect was found dead in his room at a hunting resort by the resort’s owner, who grew worried when Scalia didn’t appear at breakfast Saturday morning.
It then took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. When they did, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body — which is permissible under Texas law — and without ordering an autopsy.
As official Washington tried to process what his demise means for politics and the law, some details of Scalia’s final hours remained opaque. As late as Sunday afternoon, for example, there were conflicting reports about whether an autopsy should have been performed. A manager at the El Paso funeral home where Scalia’s body was taken said that his family made it clear they did not want one.
One of two other officials who were called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time said that she would have made a different decision on the autopsy.
“If it had been me . . . I would want to know,” Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Tex., said in an interview Sunday of the chaotic hours after Scalia’s death at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury compound less than an hour from the Mexican border and about 40 miles south of Marfa.
Meanwhile, Guevara acknowledged that she pronounced Scalia dead by phone, without seeing his body. Instead, she spoke to law enforcement officials at the scene — who assured her “there were no signs of foul play” — and Scalia’s physician in Washington, who said that the 79-year-old justice suffered from a host of chronic conditions.
“He was having health issues,’’ Guevara said, adding that she is awaiting a statement from Scalia’s doctor that will be added to his death certificate when it is issued later this week.
Guevara also rebutted a report by a Dallas TV station that quoted her as saying that Scalia had died of “myocardial infarction.” In an interview with The Washington Post, she said she meant only that his heart had stopped.
“It wasn’t a heart attack,” Guevara said. “He died of natural causes.”
In a statement Sunday, the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security for Supreme Court justices, said that Scalia had declined a security detail while at the ranch, so marshals were not present when he died. “Deputy U.S. Marshals from the Western District of Texas responded immediately upon notification of Justice Scalia’s passing,” the statement said.
One thing was clear: Scalia died in his element, doing what he loved, at a luxury resort that has played host to movie stars and European royalty, and is famous for bird hunts and bigger game such as bison and mountain lions.
“Other than being with his family or in church, there’s no place he’d rather be than on a hunt,” said Houston lawyer Mark Lanier, who took Scalia hunting for wild boar, deer and even alligators. Lanier said he first learned of Scalia’s love for hunting through former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “He’ll do anything if you take him hunting,” Lanier recalled O’Connor saying.
Scalia had recently returned from a trip to Asia, where his last public event was a book signing in Hong Kong. John Poindexter, the Houston businessman who owns the Cibolo Creek Ranch, said Sunday that Scalia and a friend arrived Friday by chartered aircraft, traveling through Houston. At the ranch, Scalia joined about 35 other people invited by Poindexter, who declined to name the other guests.
Later that day, Scalia went out with the group to hunt blue quail. But “he did not exert himself,” Poindexter said. “He got out of the hunting vehicle and walked around some.’’
Law enforcement officials said Scalia attended a private party that night with the other guests and left to go to bed early. But Poindexter said that didn’t seem unusual: All of the guests were tired from traveling to the remote ranch, as well as the day’s other activities. Everyone was in bed by 10 p.m., he said.
Scalia’s behavior, Poindexter said, “was entirely natural and normal.’’
The next morning, Scalia did not show up for breakfast. Poindexter at first thought he might be sleeping late, but eventually he grew concerned. Late Saturday morning, he and one other person knocked on the door to Scalia’s room, an expansive suite called the “El Presidente.” When there was no answer, they went inside.
“Everything was in perfect order. He was in his pajamas, peacefully, in bed,” Poindexter said.
Emergency personnel and officials from the U.S. Marshals Service were called to the scene, then two local judges who also serve as justices of the peace, Guevara said. Both were out of town, she said — not unusual in a remote region where municipalities are miles apart.
Guevara also was out of town, but she said she agreed to declare Scalia dead based on the information from law enforcement officials and Scalia’s doctor, citing Texas laws that permit a justice of the peace to declare someone dead without seeing the body.
On Saturday evening, Scalia’s body was loaded into a hearse and escorted to the Sunset Funeral Home in El Paso by a procession of about 20 law enforcement officers. It arrived there about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, according to funeral home manager Chris Lujan. The funeral home is about 31/2 hours from the ranch where Scalia died.
About 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Scalia’s family declined to have an autopsy performed, Lujan said, so the body was being prepared for Scalia’s funeral and was expected to be transported to Washington on Monday. Late Sunday, it was under guard by six law enforcement officials, including U.S. marshals and Texas state troopers, he said.
Funeral arrangements for Scalia — a devoted Catholic who was given the last rites by a Catholic priest — were unclear Sunday.