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Questions about death of Jeffrey Epstein demand answers

Exterior of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan,

Exterior of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself over the weekend while remanded in federal custody.  Credit: Charles Eckert

The case of Jeffrey Epstein is odious and troubling. That did not end with his apparent jail-cell suicide.

New questions now are layered on top of the many distressing truths — both known and not yet uncovered — surrounding the disgraced financier who has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young girls in New York and Florida.

Getting answers is critical.

How is it possible that Epstein died in federal custody in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan? He had tried to kill himself in jail in July, officials have said, but was taken off suicide watch on July 29. He was supposed to have a cellmate after that, but did not. He was to be checked frequently by guards, but was not on the night he died — two of those guards were on overtime shifts, one for the fourth or fifth straight day. The decision to remove Epstein from suicide watch was problematic. So, too, was the failure to sufficiently monitor Epstein, whether the neglect was accidental or intentional.

Attorney General William Barr cited “serious irregularities” at the jail and ordered the FBI and Department of Justice’s inspector general to conduct thorough investigations. That was the right call, and Barr should be vigilant in shepherding the probes.

As questions swirled, damaging conspiracy theories took flight. It was particularly unhelpful that President Donald Trump retweeted one such theory that has no basis in fact — that former President Bill Clinton had some involvement in Epstein’s death. Similarly, Rep. Lee Zeldin was irresponsible to tweet that there is a “100% chance” that additional wrongdoing not yet public contributed to Epstein’s death. If Zeldin knows something, he should say it. Otherwise, he should wait until the investigations produce results.

At the least, Epstein’s death highlights long-standing problems at the Manhattan jail and throughout the Bureau of Prisons. Auditors have found serious staffing and maintenance issues. Charges of understaffing and inefficiency, as well as indifference, neglect and hostility among officers in Manhattan and elsewhere, are common. Former Boston mobster Whitey Bulger was beaten to death by fellow inmates in November after a questionable transfer to a federal prison in West Virginia. The federal Brooklyn Detention Center had no electricity or heat for days of single-digit temperatures last winter, leaving 1,600 prisoners freezing in darkness and in lockdown. These problems must be fixed.

Even as Barr vowed accountability for Epstein’s suicide, Epstein’s victims will not see him held personally accountable for his abuse of them. That’s frustrating. The well-connected Epstein skirted previous attempts to punish him for sexual and financial misdeeds, including a sweetheart plea deal to a 2008 Florida sex crimes prosecution that was so lenient it forced the resignation last month of the then-U.S. attorney who negotiated it, Alexander Acosta, Trump’s labor secretary.

Epstein’s victims can pursue civil cases. And the enablers and abettors who helped procure girls for him should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent, as Barr also promised. Epstein is dead, but the fight for justice continues. — The editorial board


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