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Death of Jeffrey Epstein

Epstein in July 2013

On August 10, 2019, American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found unresponsive in his Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell, where he was awaiting trial on new sex trafficking charges. According to the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons official statement, "He was transported to a local hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries and subsequently pronounced dead by hospital staff."[1] The New York City medical examiner ruled Epstein's death a suicide.[2] Epstein's lawyers challenged that conclusion and opened their own investigation.[3] Epstein's brother Mark hired Michael Baden to oversee the autopsy. In late October, Baden announced he discovered more evidence of homicidal strangulation than suicidal hanging.[4] Both the FBI and the Inspector General of the U.S. Justice Department are conducting investigations into the circumstances of his death.

Due to violations of normal jail procedures on the night of his death (e.g. the removal of his cellmate without a replacement, the falling asleep of two guards who were meant to check on him, and the malfunction of two cameras in front of his cell)[5][6] and Epstein's knowledge of compromising information about famous people, his death generated doubt about his apparent suicide and speculation that he was murdered.[7][8]

Arrest and imprisonment

 
The Metropolitan Correctional Center

Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York on July 6, 2019, on multiple charges including sex trafficking; he pleaded not guilty.[9] He had earlier faced similar charges in Florida in 2008, but escaped federal charges in a plea deal. Under the plea deal he pleaded guilty to two state felony charges, paid restitution to three dozen victims identified by the FBI, and registered as a sex offender in both the state of Florida and the state of New York.[10] On July 18, 2019, Epstein was denied bail after offering US$600,000 to be able to wear an ankle tracker at his New York City townhouse. He was viewed as a potential flight risk due to his 20 international flights in the prior 18 months.[11]

Epstein was found semiconscious in his cell with injuries to his neck on July 23. He told his lawyers that he had been assaulted by his cellmate.[12] His cellmate, multiple murder and drug conspiracy suspect Nicholas Tartaglione, was questioned by prison officials but denied harming Epstein.[13][14] An internal prison investigation reportedly cleared Tartaglione in connection with the event.[15] As a result of the incident, Epstein was placed on suicide watch.[16] He was placed in an observation cell, surrounded by windows, where lights were left on and any devices that could be used by the prisoner to take his own life were not permitted to be retained.[17] Epstein was removed from suicide watch after six days following a psychiatric examination.[18] Epstein was then moved to a special housing unit, where he was supposed to have a cellmate and be checked up on every 30 minutes.[19]

Epstein was reportedly depositing funds into other prisoners' accounts to gain favor by them and/or buy protection.[20] On August 8, Jeffrey Epstein signed his last will and testament. The signing of the will was witnessed by two attorneys who knew him. The will named two longtime employees as executors, and immediately gifted all of his assets, and any assets remaining in his estate, to a trust.[21]

Death

The jail informed the Justice Department, when Epstein was placed in the special housing unit, that he would have a cellmate and that a guard would look into the cell every 30 minutes. These procedures were not followed on the night he died.[5] On August 9, Epstein's cellmate was transferred out, and no new replacement cellmate was brought in. Later in the evening, in violation of the jail's normal procedure, Epstein was not checked every 30 minutes.[5] The two guards who were assigned to check his cell overnight fell asleep for about three hours.[22] Two cameras in front of Epstein's cell also malfunctioned that night.[6] Another camera had footage which was "unusable."[23]

In the morning around 6:30 AM, Epstein was found unresponsive in cardiac arrest in his cell, in what was initially reported as an apparent suicide. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on August 10, 2019. The news of the death was posted on 4chan about 38 minutes before ABC News broke the news. If it was posted by a first responder, as it seems to have been, it would likely be a violation of privacy law, but the poster is so far unidentified, and the "review" is ongoing.[24][25]

An autopsy on Epstein's body was conducted on August 11 by New York City's Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson. Epstein's lawyers sent pathologist Michael Baden to personally observe the city's autopsy.[26] Following the autopsy, the medical examiner's office reported that Epstein had hanged himself with a sheet from his bed.[2] On August 14, unofficial sources reported that broken bones were found in Epstein's neck; this can occur in the suicide of the elderly. They are said to be "more common in victims of homicide by strangulation",[27] though multiple studies have found different percentages for both manners of death.[28] Epstein's lawyers released a joint statement following the report of the medical examiner, expressing that they are not satisfied, challenging the conclusions and saying that a more complete response was forthcoming. They also indicated that the defense team fully intends to continue its own independent and complete investigation into the circumstances and cause of their client's death,[29] including taking legal action, if necessary, to view the pivotal camera footage near his cell during the night of his death.[3] They later said that the evidence concerning Epstein's death was "far more consistent" with murder than suicide.[8] In October 2019 during an interview with Fox & Friends, Baden stated from his personal observation of the city's autopsy that Epstein's death was more consistent with homicidal strangulation than suicide, citing "three fractures [that] are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and [w]ould occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation".[30][31]

Reaction

U.S. President Donald Trump responded to Epstein's death by retweeting a conspiracy theory from a user named Terrence K. Williams, linking Epstein's death to former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Angel Ureña, a spokesperson for the Clintons, tweeted: "Ridiculous, and of course not true—and Donald Trump knows it."[32] White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Trump's retweet, saying on Fox News Sunday that he "wants everything to be investigated".[33] CNN host Jake Tapper later criticized Trump for the retweet, saying "the state of our union is appalled" that Trump had used his "massive Twitter platform to spread a deranged conspiracy theory."[34]

Attorney General William Barr said he was "appalled" by Epstein's death while in federal custody and that it "raises serious questions that must be answered." He ordered an investigation by the Justice Department's Inspector General in addition to the FBI investigation.[35] Senator Ben Sasse, chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary oversight subcommittee, later wrote a letter to Barr saying "The Department of Justice failed." He added "Given Epstein's previous attempted suicide, he should have been locked in a padded room under unbroken, 24/7, constant surveillance. Obviously, heads must roll."[36]

 
Activist carries a sign reading "Epstein Didn't Act Alone" outside a Donald Trump for President rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sits on the United States House Judiciary Committee, called on chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler to prioritize investigating the circumstances around Epstein's death over other probes being carried out by the committee.[37] Rep. Lois Frankel called for a congressional investigation into the 2008 plea deal for Epstein.[38] Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for a "full investigation" into Epstein's death, saying on CBS News' Face the Nation, "These survivors deserved justice, they deserved a day in court, they deserved to speak out against this perpetrator, and it is a shame. I do think there needs to be a full investigation about why he was taken off the suicide watch list; I think it's a strange decision, given that he attempted suicide once already."[39] Florida Senator Rick Scott said Epstein's death had robbed his victims of an "opportunity for justice. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims."[40] Attorney Lisa Bloom wrote: "On behalf of the victims I represent, we would have preferred he lived to face justice. Our civil cases can still proceed against his estate. Victims deserve to be made whole for the lifelong damage he caused. We're just getting started."[41]

"For them to pull him off suicide watch is shocking," Cameron Lindsay, a former warden with experience working at three federal facilities, told NBC News. "For someone this high-profile, with these allegations and this many victims, who has had a suicide attempt in the last few weeks, you can take absolutely no chances. You leave him on suicide watch until he's out of there."[42] Federal prosecutors in the case called Epstein's death "disturbing" and emphasized that they would continue to seek justice for his accusers even after the financier's death. Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement, "To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment—which included a conspiracy count—remains ongoing."[43]

On August 12, 2019, the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler and ranking member Doug Collins, sent 23 questions to the Federal Bureau of Prisons about Epstein's death. "The apparent suicide of this high-profile and—if allegations are proven to be accurate—particularly reprehensible individual while in the federal government's custody demonstrates severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol and has allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice," they wrote. "Any victims of Mr. Epstein's actions will forever be denied proper recourse and the scintilla of recompense our justice system can provide in the face of such alleged atrocities; the competency and rigor of our criminal justice system has been marred by this apparent oversight."[44]

Autopsy

 
Epstein's hyoid bone was broken

On August 16, 2019, Barbara Sampson, the New York City Medical Examiner, announced that Epstein's death had been ruled a suicide by hanging.[45] Later conflicting reports stated that the injuries Epstein sustained were as consistent, if not more so, with strangulation or homicide as with suicide.[46][47] However, Sampson's report found that there was no foul play in Epstein's death.[48][49][50] Three of Epstein's lawyers expressed their dissatisfaction with Sampson's conclusion of suicide, having hired renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to observe the autopsy; they said they would be initiating their own investigation and will be providing a more detailed statement in the future.[51][52][53] Baden observed Sampson's autopsy when it was conducted; after the autopsy he indicated that he was unable to comment due to gag orders filed by Sampson's office and Epstein's estate.[45] On October 30, 2019, Baden issued a report stating that Epstein's neck injuries were much more consistent with "homicidal strangulation" than suicide. He stated that Epstein "had two fractures on the left and right sides of his larynx, specifically the thyroid cartilage or Adam’s apple, as well as one fracture on the left hyoid bone above the Adam's apple".[54] In particular, his hyoid bone, which is rarely broken in suicidal hangings, was broken in a way indicative of strangulation from behind.[55] According to the autopsy files, Epstein also had two contusions on both of his wrists, an abrasion on his left forearm, and deep muscle hemorrhaging of his left deltoid or shoulder. His brother, Mark, later suggested that he was "handcuffed and struggled."[56]

Investigations

The Federal Bureau of Investigation subsequently launched an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Epstein's death,[57] with Attorney General Barr saying that Justice Department officials will thoroughly investigate "serious irregularities" at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) where Epstein was found dead. Barr also warned that any of Epstein's alleged co-conspirators "should not rest easy," noting that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively pursue the case to ensure anyone who worked alongside Epstein will be held accountable. "We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation," Barr said during remarks at a law enforcement conference in New Orleans. "The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are doing just that." Barr said he was "appalled" and "angry" by the developments; he insisted that the Justice Department would "get to the bottom" of what happened and promised accountability. "Let me assure you this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein," Barr said. "Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it."[58] On August 12, 2019, federal agents searched Epstein's home on his private island, Little Saint James.[59]

On August 14, Manhattan federal court judge Richard Berman, who was overseeing Epstein's criminal case, wrote to the Metropolitan Correctional Centre warden Lamine N'Diaye inquiring as to whether an investigation into the millionaire's apparent suicide would include a probe into his prior (July 23) injuries. Judge Berman wrote that to his knowledge it has never been definitely explained what they concluded about the incident.[60]

Two French Cabinet officials Marlène Schiappa and Adrien Taquet subsequently called for an investigation into the "many unanswered questions" about Epstein's ties to France, calling for the French government to launch its own probe. "The US investigation has highlighted links with France," Schiappa and Taquet said in the statement, according to ABC. "It thus seems to us fundamental for the victims that an investigation be opened in France so that all is brought to light." "The elements received at the Paris prosecutor's office are being analyzed and cross-referenced," a spokesperson for the office told ABC News. "The first audits are currently underway to determine whether an investigation should be opened in France."[61]

On August 13, 2019, the New York City Fire Department said it reviewed a 4chan post purporting to be from a first responder detailing Epstein's death more than 30 minutes before it was made public, BuzzFeed News reported. "The FDNY reviewed the alleged information and determined it did not come from the Department," FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer told The Hill on Tuesday. Dwyer emphasized that "at no time was there an investigation" into the information and called BuzzFeed's initial story "inaccurate." BuzzFeed subsequently issued a correction noting that the department conducted a "review" instead of a more formal "investigation" into the information.[62]

Also on August 13, Attorney General Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily reassign the warden of the MCC, Lamine N'Diaye, while the FBI and Justice Department inspector general investigate the circumstances surrounding Epstein's death. James Petrucci was named acting warden.[63] Two staff members assigned to Epstein's unit have also been placed on administrative leave, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. James Petrucci has been named acting warden of the MCC, the Justice Department added. "The Bureau of Prisons also placed on administrative leave two MCC staff assigned to Mr. Epstein's unit pending the outcome of the investigations. Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant," Kupec said.[64]

Later on August 13, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr urging him to "rip up" the 2008 non-prosecution deal for Epstein and his co-conspirators. Sasse argued that the Justice Department must bring Epstein's co-conspirators to justice despite his death, and added, "This crooked deal cannot stand."[65]

Homicide suspicions and speculation

Due to violations of standard prison procedures, and Epstein's knowledge of compromising information about famous figures, his death spawned skepticism as well as multiple conspiracy theories. A Rasmussen poll conducted in August 2019 found that only 29% of American adults believe Epstein actually committed suicide, while 42% think he was murdered to prevent him from testifying against powerful people with whom he associated, and 29% of people were undecided.[66]

Before Epstein's death, several people publicly predicted an untimely death for Epstein in prison. In a July 27 interview, Bob Fitrakis—a longtime investigator into Epstein[67]—stated that he thought it was "likely" that Epstein would be "killed in prison".[68][69] Spencer Kuvin, a lawyer who represented three alleged victims of Epstein, stated in a July 2019 interview following Epstein's first apparent suicide attempt, that he believed it was an attack on his life, and stated there was a high probability that he would be murdered in prison. [70][71]

At an August 27 hearing, Epstein defense attorney Reid Weingarten expressed "significant doubts" that death was due to suicide. According to Weingarten, when attorneys met with their client shortly before his death, "we did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person".[72] Regarding Epstein's death, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that "something doesn't fit."[73]

Because of his connections to many wealthy and powerful people, there was speculation that some co-conspirator or participant in his sex crimes might have arranged for him to be silenced.[70] In the hours after the death, the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount was trending on Twitter as users accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of being involved in Epstein's death.[74] Several hours after Epstein was found dead, Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory by Terrence K. Williams, a comedian and conservative commentator, suggesting that there was a connection between the Clintons and Epstein's death—furthering a perennial conspiracy theory dating to the early 1990s that the Clintons have had numerous people killed to silence them.[75][76] The retweet was immediately showcased worldwide.[77][78]

Director of admissions at Jackson Institute for Global Affairs[79] and CNN commentator Asha Rangappa suggested, inferring from the publicly available evidence, that Epstein might have been able to bribe guards to "look the other way", thus allowing him to commit suicide.[80]

ABC anchor Amy Robach was recorded between ad breaks saying that she believes Epstein was a "100%" murdered. The footage was later leaked by right wing activist group Project Veritas. She also stated that ABC had had the story for 3 years, but suppressed it.[81][82][83]

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted: "I guess they think a country dumb enough to elect Trump is stupid enough to believe Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide."[84][85]

Florida Senator Marco Rubio alleged that Russian bots were spreading Epstein conspiracy theories to create their own narrative and divide Americans. A spokesperson for Virginia Senator Mark Warner claimed that spreading conspiracy theories was "doing Russia's dirty work for them."[60]

In popular culture

In November 2019, the phrase "Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself" became a popular internet meme. The meme also appeared at multiple televised sports games in the form of signs and painted bodies.[86][87][88]

References

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