Stunning Confession: Natalie Wood Coroner Admits — Under Oath In New Lawsuit — How He Bungled Actress' Autopsy

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Aug. 22 2016, Updated 4:11 p.m. ET

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Chilling blunders from the nation's top coroner — buried under a stone wall of silence for 35 years — let Robert Wagner skate after his wife Natalie Wood was murdered, RadarOnline.com has discovered.

That's the stunning contention of a top legal analyst after former L.A. County Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi, 89, finally confessed under oath that he failed to scrape for foreign tissue samples under the dead woman's fingernails while conducting her postmortem!

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In NEW testimony as part of a civil law case, Noguchi hinted that he suspected foul play — even though he officially ruled Woods' Nov. 29, 1981, death was an "accidental drowning."

An explosive new police investigation has reclassified the tragedy as "drowning and other undetermined factors," based on a series of bruises found on her body — marks Noguchi conceded he discounted, another damning error that let Woods' alleged killer cheat justice.

"It was a mistake not to get nail clippings. The only question is: Was it intentional?" powerhouse attorney, Sam Perroni, told Radar.

Perroni deposed Noguchi as part of his effort to get police to release top-secret files on Woods' death.

During the interrogation, when asked whether he collected the actress's fingernail clippings, Noguchi answered: "I don't remember."

Yet, astonishingly, under the "general evidence" section of Noguchi's lengthy autopsy report, it's revealed Woods' nail clippings were not collected!

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By failing to do that, Noguchi failed to ignite a probe into whether Woods was murdered, claimed Perroni, a former no-nonsense federal prosecutor in Little Rock, Ark.

In his book Coroner, Noguchi wrote: "In any case of unusual death it is a first duty of medical examiners to suspect murder."

Yet, in Woods' case, coroner-to-the-star Noguchi failed to consider murder because he may have been afraid of "opening up a can of worms," alleged Perroni, who exclusively provided Radar with the 46-page transcript of the deposition.

Perroni added: "During his deposition, Dr. Noguchi was running from the statements and conclusions he made in his book concerning Natalie's death."

Noguchi's book contains a lengthy narrative of Woods' final minutes, describing how she tried to hang on to a rubber dinghy as it drifted away from Splendour, the couple's yacht.

Noguchi based his description on the findings of coroner's investigator Paul Miller, who found scratches on the dinghy.

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Experts said tests on Woods' fingernails would have determined if claims the 43-year-old actress desperately clawed at the dinghy before she died were true.

Nail clippings also may have provided evidence of a life-or-death struggle. Tissue samples may even have helped nail the perpetrator, experts said.

Former L.A. prosecutor Rhonda Saunders told Radar: "The fact that there's no mention in the coroner's report of jagged or ripped fingernails is very unusual. It just seems like they wanted to wrap up this case as quickly as possible."

Woods died after spending the Thanksgiving weekend sailing off California's Catalina Island with Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, her co-star in the film, Brainstorm.

As Radar has reported, Wagner, now 86, exploded in a jealous rage aboard the yacht and fought a boozy brawl with Woods, according to Splendour Capt. Dennis Davern.

After the L.A. County Sheriff's Department reopened the probe into her death in 2011, the Medical Examiner's Office tossed Noguchi's findings.

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