The sudden jail-cell death of the sex-offender socialite Jeffrey Epstein in federal custody has left the country baffled. How could such a high profile prisoner, who’d already allegedly attempted to kill himself, be left unattended and in position to cause himself harm?
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” said Attorney General William Barr. In the absence of reliable information, the nation’s curiosity gap has been infilled with conspiracy theories, including from our commander in chief, about how exactly the wealthy financier — alleged to have kompromat on elites from two continents and across the political spectrum — met his untimely end. The latest reports on the circumstances of Epstein’s death, about sleeping guards and fractured neck bones, aren’t putting the speculation to rest.
Here are the key questions in the Epstein case, answered to the extent the facts allow:
How did Epstein end up in jail?
Epstein was arrested on July 6th, and indicted on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges for having “created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit.” He faced a sentence of up to 45 years if convicted.
Where was Epstein held?
Epstein had been jailed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center near the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan, a notoriously run-down facility operated by the U.S. Department of Justice to hold individuals awaiting trial or sentencing in federal court.
Was Epstein on suicide watch?
Not at the time of his death. On July 23rd, after being denied bail, Epstein was reportedly found unconscious in his cell, with bruising around his neck, consistent with a suicide attempt. He was briefly placed under suicide watch, meaning he would have been put in a special cell, surrounded by windows, without bed clothes, and under near-constant surveilance. But, reportedly at the request of his attorneys, Epstein was removed from suicide watch less than a week later.
Was anyone watching him?
For the 12 days prior to his death, Epstein had been returned to a special housing unit in the jail, where he was supposed to have been checked in on every 30 minutes. Because of his previous suicide attempt, Epstein should also have had a cellmate. Neither of these policies was followed. Epstein’s cellmate was reportedly transferred away and not quickly replaced, and the prison employees responsible for his supervision failed to check in on him for hours the night of his death.
What’s more, only one of the two staffers watching Epstein Friday night was actually a corrections officer. The other had been reportedly pressed into service from another role in the facility. (The jail suffers from grave staffing shortfalls, the hangover from a now-lifted hiring freeze imposed by the Trump administration.) The New York Times, citing two officials with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that the guards fell asleep for three crucial hours and later falsified their logs “to cover up their mistake.”
“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility,” Barr told reporters Monday, “that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.”
The jail’s warden has already been reassigned, and the two jail employees on Epstein’s watch, who have not been identified, have been placed on leave.
Who had access to Epstein?
Epstein had reportedly been in constant contact with his attorneys. According to the Wall Street Journal, Epstein had been meeting with his lawyers for up to 12 hours a day in the lead up to his demise.
What could have spurred on his death?
Epstein’s death followed in the hours after nearly 2,000 pages of court documents relating to his alleged sexual abuses of minor teen girls were unsealed last Friday. The documents implicated powerful men in his alleged sex trafficking of these girls — including a British royal, a former governor and a former senator, all of whom deny any wrongdoing — and revealed his past purchases of books about sex slavery.
How did Epstein die?
Epstein, 66, was reportedly found in his cell early Saturday morning with a sheet tied around his neck in a noose, and in cardiac arrest. He was transported to a local hospital where he was soon declared dead.
How was the public informed?
Nothing is normal about this case. Epstein’s death appears to have been first reported on 4chan by an individual who appeared to have intimate knowledge of the attempts to resuscitate him, reportedly prompting an investigation by the New York City Fire Department as to whether a first responder leaked this sensitive information. The 4chan poster, who posted the details of Epstein’s passing alongside an image of the right-wing troll mascot Pepe the Frog, wrote: “Don’t ask me how I know, but Epstein died an hour ago from hanging, cardiac arrest,” according to a screenshot posted by BuzzFeed, dated nearly 40 minutes before the first journalistic reports of Epstein’s death. In a subsequent post, the same 4chan user published non-public information purporting to detail the lengths and methods of treatment attempted to revive Epstein from cardiac arrest.
Was Epstein’s death a suicide?
Despite initial reports of suicide, there is not yet an official ruling on Epstein’s death. An official autopsy has been conducted, under the observation of celebrity pathologist Michael Baden, who was brought at the request of parties close to Epstein. But Barbara Sampson, the New York City Chief Medical Examiner, announced that the cause of death still has not been determined, “pending further information.” The Washington Post reports that Epstein suffered multiple broken bones in his neck, including fractures of the hyoid bone near the Adam’s apple. This bone, which grows more fragile as men age, can break during a suicide. However the injury is “more common in victims of homicide by strangulation,” according to newspaper.
Is there video footage?
Cameras at the MCC reportedly do not have line of sight into most cells, so it is likely that Epstein’s final moments were not caught on camera.
What happens next?
As America awaits a ruling on the official cause of death, both the FBI and the Department of Justice’s official watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, have launched investigations into how Epstein could have been allowed to die while in federal custody. “We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability,” Barr said.
Is the investigation into Epstein’s alleged crimes over?
The attorney general has sworn that the pursuit of others in Epstein’s alleged sex ring will not end with the financier’s death. “This case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Barr insisted. “The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.”