- By Sean Collins Walsh American-Statesman Staff
On Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia went on a successful quail hunt and had pork tenderloin for dinner with a group of about 35 to 40 people staying at the Cibolo Creek Ranch luxury resort near Marfa.
After excusing himself early from dinner and saying he was looking forward to the next day’s pheasant hunt, Scalia retired to the presidential suite for the night. On Saturday morning, ranch owner John Poindexter found Scalia dead in bed.
“The judge, when I found him Saturday morning, was in complete repose. He was very peaceful in the bed. He had obviously passed away with no difficulty at all in the middle of the night,” Poindexter told reporters Sunday morning. Friday night, he said, Scalia “was of course his usual personable self and was not exactly the life of the party but certainly quite a participant. He excused himself about 9 o’clock in the evening and retired, saying he was tired and wanted to have a very long night’s sleep.”
Scalia’s body was scheduled to be flown Sunday night from El Paso, where it was embalmed, to Virginia, where the justice lived, said Chris Lujan, manager of the funeral home that received the justice’s body at 3 a.m. Sunday after law enforcement officers escorted it there from the resort.
There was no autopsy, Lujan said, because neither Scalia’s family nor the authorities requested one or had reason to suspect foul play. The 79-year-old justice’s cause of death will be recorded as a heart attack on his Texas death certificate, Lujan said.
Born in Trenton, N.J., raised in New York City and made famous in Washington, Scalia might not have seemed likely to die on a remote West Texas ranch. But it is perhaps fitting that the conservative justice who penned the 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller — holding for the first time that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to have guns in their homes for self-defense — died on a hunting trip in a state that worships gun rights.
Scalia was staying at the invitation and expense of Poindexter, a Houston manufacturing magnate who holds a free annual hunting excursion for notable guests. Scalia, a friend of Poindexter’s, might have known some of the other guests but did not previously know many of them, said George E. Van Etten, a consultant for the ranch who gave reporters a tour of the 32,000-acre property Sunday morning. It was the justice’s first time at the resort.
“It’s a place to come to relax. It’s not a place to come to party or anything,” Van Etten said. “It’s a book reader’s paradise.”
The rest of the party stayed, Van Etten said, and went on the pheasant hunt Saturday morning. Van Etten said the group included a number of other “high-profile” figures but declined to say who. Past guests have included “Hollywood luminaries and captains of industry” but no presidents or Supreme Court justices, he said.
The property is about 30 miles south of Marfa and 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Parts of “No Country for Old Men,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and other movies were shot here.
A small airfield for private jets ferrying the resort’s wealthy guests sits across U.S. 67 from the part of the ranch where the group stayed. Scalia arrived at noon Friday in a private jet, Van Etten said.
“He had a great time. In fact, when he turned in, he was looking forward to the next day’s activities,” Van Etten said.
The group stayed in rooms that were added on to the 1857-built Cibolo Fort, one of three forts on the property dating to the area’s pioneer days. Scalia’s suite looked out on the Chinati Mountains and a small artificial lake fed by the Cibolo Springs.
Poindexter, who bought the property in 1990, has restored the forts and built the luxury resort business.
After Poindexter found Scalia’s body Saturday morning, U.S. marshals, who handle security for Supreme Court justices, investigated at the scene and found no signs of foul play, Van Etten said. A Roman Catholic priest then came to give the justice the last rites.