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July death of woman who came to Camden County for 'spiritual cleansing' is ruled accidental

The strange case of Lucie Marie Hamilton has been closed, but for her mother at least, the mystery surrounding her death remains.

The strange case of Lucie Marie Hamilton has been closed, but for her mother at least, the mystery surrounding her death remains.

Hamilton, 20, a male-to-female transgender from Little Rock, Ark., died during a spiritual cleansing inside the home of a Camden County voodoo priest on July 10.

Yesterday, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said that Hamilton's death had been accidental, resulting from the combined effects of "physical exhaustion, ambient room temperature and an oxygen-depleted atmosphere."

The only substance found in Hamilton's system, her mother said, was cinnamon.

"They couldn't see anything. There was nothing that jumped out at them," said Karen Thompson, referring to the extensive toxicology tests authorities conducted over the last four months. "It's just so bizarre. I wish things had been a little more conclusive."

Hamilton's death was never deemed suspicious by authorities, and "Houngan" Hector Salva, the voodoo priest who performed the "Lave Tet" ritual inside his small, Gloucester Township townhouse, was never charged or even named as a suspect in the case.

Thompson said she does not think that Salva was directly responsible for her daughter's death, but after speaking last week with local authorities and the medical examiner who worked on the case, she believes he created a dangerous environment in his home.

"I just think he was young, stupid and negligent," she said.

"They [authorities] said maybe it was a combination of exhaustion and not eating and too many people in a small space. They mentioned too much carbon dioxide and ventilation and too many candles."

Hamilton and six other participants had traveled from as far away as Canada and the Netherlands to take part in Salva's ceremony on Loch Lomond Drive in Gloucester Township. On the night of July 10, Salva told 9-1-1 operators that Hamilton had taken a nap and was unresponsive when he tried to wake her.

Salva did not return several phone calls or e-mails for comment yesterday. During an interview with the Daily News in July, Salva expressed remorse over Hamilton's death but was confident he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"That's God's choice," Salva said when asked why he thought Hamilton had died.

Since Lucie's death, Thompson said she has spent hours on Salva's Gade Nou Leve Society Web site trying to learn more about his beliefs and why her daughter was willing to travel so far and pay so much for his services.

She's been surprised by the conviction of Salva's worldwide supporters and saddened that her daughter is never mentioned on his extensive site.

"I want people to know that someone died under his care," she said. "I don't want him to ever be able to get away from this."