court questions | 

Jeffrey Epstein: How did disgraced financier die and why is there skepticism about his death?

Jury in trial of Epstein’s ex girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell will resume deliberations on December 27
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

Josh Marcus©

Jurors have been deliberating since Monday over the fate of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is facing six charges in a case that accuses her of running a sexual “pyramid scheme of abuse” towards girls and young women.

Looming behind the federal sex crimes trial is the 2019 suicide of financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died before he could be put on trial for trafficking charges of his own.

Ms Maxwell has denied wrongdoing, and her lawyers have argued, “the charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein.”

With a decision in Ms Maxwell’s case expected after Christmas, here’s more information on what happened to the man alleged to be controlling the sprawling network of harm that is now on trial:

How did Jeffrey Epstein die?

Epstein died on August 10 inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, where he was confined ahead of a pending trial for allegedly recruiting dozens of teen girls to engage in sexual acts with him and his friends. He was facing up to 45 years in prison if he was convicted.

Authorities ruled the death suicide, and Mr Epstein was found with a noose made out of a bedsheet.

Why is there skepticism about Jeffrey Epstein’s death?

Since the 66-year-old’s death, speculation has run rampant that Epstein did not kill himself, though authorities ranging from the medical examiner to former US Attorney General William Barr have confirmed that Epstein killed himself.

In the immediate aftermath of the disgraced businessman’s death, people were already questioning whether it was a suicide.

One of his lawyers, Reid Weingarten, said he had met with Epstein and “we did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person”.

His attorney argued instead that Epstein’s body, found with broken bones in his neck, which can also occur during strangulation, showed evidence “far more consistent with assault”.

President Trump piled on as well, retweeting a conspiracy theory tying the death to Bill Clinton, who had flown on Epstein’s private jet dubbed the “Lolita Express”, as had numerous other figures in politics and entertainment – including Mr Trump himself.

The death also set off fevered speculation online, where the story overlapped with the themes of the increasingly influential QAnon conspiracy movement, which believes a cabal of paedophilic Democratic and media elites are conspiring to harm children.

Then-Attorney General Barr, however, said he personally reviewed security footage of Epstein’s cell and said no one else was present during the death.

"I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups," he told the Associated Press in 2019.

There were other factors that raised eyebrows as well, including Epstein’s repeated comments to prison psychologists that he was mentally sound and not contemplating suicide.

“Why would you ever think I would be suicidal? I am not suicidal and I would never be,” Epstein told one prison official, adding that as a Jew, it was against his religion.

“I have no interest in killing myself,” Epstein declared on another occasion, saying he was a “coward” who “would not do that to myself”, according to Bureau of Prisons documents reviewed by The New York Times.

What’s more, even after an apparent suicide attempt in July and growing concern from prison psychologists he would try again, the two guards set to monitor him have admitted to lapses, including l ying on documents about whether they had checked his cell the night of his death.

What happens now?

Two years later, the Bureau of Prisons and Department of Justice are still investigating the death, fuelling further criticisms that something seems to be amiss.

"Jeffrey Epstein should still be sitting behind bars today – but the system failed on every level, and he escaped justice," US Senator Ben Sasse, among those pushing for more information on what happened, said in August.

"We owe it to the young women he victimized to continue our push for answers, and ensure that this never happens again."

The suicide has also opened up federal authorities to criticisms as to how they let an inmate in their care take his own life.

Documents reported by CNN and the Times reveal a number of errors leading up to the death.

Officials initially segregated Epstein with the general population and failed to note his previous sex offender convictions.

They made errors on record-keeping that indicated he was Black, even though he was white.

On the night of his death, when he was left alone even though he’d been ordered to have a cellmate, he claimed he was calling his mother, who is dead, and was instead calling his girlfriend.

Psychologists were also clearly aware the man was disturbed before his death, including temporarily being placed on suicide watch.

This May, a judge approved a deal that would see the two guards who failed to monitor Epstein’s cell avoid jail time and instead get community service.

Today's Headlines

More World Crime

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices