Two months after observing the autopsy of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, a forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother has claimed that the injuries associated with his death are more consistent with homicide than suicide. But until we have more information, according to experts, it’s impossible to know what really happened.
Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner and a Fox News contributor, went on Fox & Friends Wednesday morning to discuss why he thinks Epstein likely did not die by suicide. Specifically, Baden noted that Epstein had two fractures on the left and right sides of his larynx, as well as one fracture on the left hyoid bone above the Adam’s apple, which he said “are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation.”
Despite Baden’s new revelations, New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson stands by her office’s initial ruling that Epstein’s death was suicide. “Our investigation concluded that the cause of Mr. Epstein’s death was hanging and the manner of death was suicide,” Sampson said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “We stand by that determination. We continue to share information around the medical investigation with Mr. Epstein’s family, their representatives, and their pathology consultant. The original medical investigation was thorough and complete. There is no reason for a second medical investigation by our office.” Dr. Baden did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet released any photos or documentation related to the investigation, a rep from the office confirmed in an email to Rolling Stone. Baden, however, reportedly provided Fox News with a copy of the summary of the autopsy report, as well as diagrams and X-rays they claim belong to Epstein.
At this point, it is difficult to draw conclusions from Baden’s recent revelations — especially with the Chief Medical Examiner remaining firm in her determination that Epstein’s death was a suicide. And though he’s regarded as an expert in his field, Baden is also known for his love of publicity and getting involved with high-profile cases. Rolling Stone spoke with two forensic pathologists who indicated that more information — including the results of the ongoing police investigation — is required before we have a complete picture of the events surrounding Epstein’s death.
“The reason we do full autopsies is to make sure that the outsides and the insides correlate and that everything makes sense. I always do an autopsy with a skeptical lens,” Priya Banerjee, M.D., an independent board-certified forensic pathologist at Anchor Forensic Pathology tells Rolling Stone, noting that since she was not directly involved with the investigation, she could not comment on specifics of the case. “In addition, any death in-custody is scrutinized in fine detail to evaluate what led to the person’s death.”
In cases like this with a detailed workup, Banerjee says that she would usually X-ray all the bones involved individually, and take microscopic sections to characterize them, as well as possibly get additional evaluation by a forensic anthropologist in order to get a better idea of what caused the fractures. “When I see injury of the neck, it’s always worrisome. The neck is generally a very protected area,” says Banerjee, who has worked on hundreds of cases involving injuries to the neck including hangings as well as homicidal strangulation. “The hyoid bone is a very delicate U-shaped bone. It is easily broken when pressed, similar to how a wishbone in a turkey can break with pressure. It is as the base of the tongue, high up in the neck in a very protected area, so that’s why it’s not easily reached.”
The larynx contains the Adam’s apple, Bannerjee explains. Towards the back of the neck, the side portions of the larynx become thinner and more easily injured. “I say with skepticism that traditionally I do not see this described extent of injury with suicides,” she says. “These are definitely highly atypical and highly concerning.”
According to Judy Melinek, M.D., a board-certified forensic pathologist and CEO of PathologyExpert Inc., it’s not the location or number of fractures that matter, but the location of the ligature relative to the fracture in the context of the death scene and other autopsy findings of injury.
“If the fractures are nowhere near the ligature furrow and [if] there are defensive injuries on the arms, then the case is more consistent with a homicide being covered up as a suicidal hanging,” Melinek, who also was not involved with the investigation, therefore cannot comment on specifics, tells Rolling Stone. “If there are no other injuries to the body and the hyoid and thyroid fractures correspond to the location of the furrow, then it could realistically be a hanging suicide.” So far, no evidence of defensive wounds has made public. The ME did not respond to a request for comment to clarify.
In addition to the injuries on Epstein’s neck, Baden also pointed out hemorrhages in his eyes, which he said were common in homicidal strangulation and less common, though not unheard of, in suicidal hangings. Banerjee says that fine petechial hemorrhages in the lining of the eyes in do occur in hangings — whether fully or partially suspended — as well as in homicidal strangulation.
“This finding is less specific to me. It doesn’t sway me one way or another,” she says.
However, as Melinek points out, there’s not really enough information available to know what happened. “Until the police reports, scene and autopsy photos, and jail hallway videos are released or discovered as part of a civil legal proceeding, there is no way of knowing whether the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Sampson, or Dr. Baden are relying on incomplete information,” she says.
Melinek also notes that Baden may not have been given access to the police investigative information that the Chief Medical Examiner has. Sampson and her team may be the only ones who have had access to all the available materials, with the exception of the results of the ongoing police investigation. As it stands at the moment, it’s unclear if there’s more to the story — or this is just an attempt to cast doubt on the official finding that Epstein had killed himself.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 confidential text messaging service that provides support to people in crisis when they text 741741.