Defense attorneys were turned away from the high rise federal jail in lower Manhattan known as the Metropolitan Correction Center on Saturday morning. The Legal Department told us, it was “due to an earlier security issue.” Apparently, they were scouring the jail to find Jeffrey Epstein’s killer.
Epstein was found dead by hanging. He had been taken off suicide watch less than two weeks earlier. Suicide watch is a special unit where each prisoner is observed 24/7 by another prisoner who has special training. Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found unconscious with neck injuries on July 23. Seems the prison hierarchy thought six days was enough even for a man whose rich, hedonistic, rapacious lifestyle had come to a crashing end. From there, they put him in the “SHU” — the notorious special housing unit, typically reserved for the most violent inmates. Then, they took away his roommate. Then, guards stopped checking in on his cell every thirty minutes like they are supposed to.
He was found dead at 6:30 a.m., according to the New York Times.
Epstein left behind at least “80 possible victims” identified by the Miami Herald and had sex with “dozens” of underage girls according to the 2019 indictment. The victims are rightfully livid that Epstein won’t have to personally answer the charges against him. They should still be able to sue his estate for compensation and the FBI is actively investigating people who might have assisted Epstein in procuring underage girls for sex, or covering up his abuse.
Epstein, who was 66, likely would never have been released from prison no matter how good his lawyers are. Sex trafficking charges carry ten- or fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentences and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines quickly push the recommended sentences to 360 months-to-life. There were countless victims, ages as young as 14, and, in hindsight, the evidence would likely have been overwhelming as more and more emerged to tell their stories. Prosecutors could have added a separate ten- or fifteen-year minimum count for each victim.
Epstein has been living under the stigma of being a registered sex offender since he was prosecuted in state court in Florida in 2008. But in New York, the Manhattan District Attorney felt he should only be a Level One offender under the Sex Offender Registration Act, which would have meant he was deemed “low risk” to re-offend. His information would not have been posted on the New York State internet directory of sex offenders and he would have been subjected to only the most minimal of restrictions (not working on ice cream trucks, for example). But Judge Ruth Pickholz would have none of it. He was adjudicated at high risk and seemed to have managed to go about his business anyway. As a Level Three registrant, he had to check in with the police every three months. His information was posted on the state website, where it remains today for all to see.
So the Sex Offender Registration Act did not kill Jeffrey Epstein. The Manhattan DA did not kill Jeffrey Epstein. The victims wanted him alive. The prison guards did not really care either way. The question remains, who killed Jeffrey Epstein?
I don’t have an easy answer except that his death seems to have been the inevitable result of an insane process. Most people think his apparent impunity was a consequence of his wealth, but I am not so sure. As long as they have the evidence, decent prosecutors don’t hesitate to go after wealthy people. Epstein got an excellent deal a decade ago in which he was permitted to plead only to soliciting a sixteen-year-old, thus dramatically reducing the severity of the charges. That was despite the fact that the original accuser was fourteen. The Florida prosecutors refused to comment on why they did not require a plea to the more serious charges, but I suspect it had more to do with the quality of the evidence than a desire to cut a rich guy a break. As I told Beth Reinhard of the Washington Post,”society in general is much more punitive and harsh if the victim was 14 versus 17.”
Fast forward eleven years and Jeffrey Epstein is public enemy number one. His current prosecution led to the resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was the federal prosecutor in 2008 who took a pass on his case. Epstein’s lewd excesses have been chronicled extensively and his victims see an opportunity not only for vindication but for compensation (which they surely deserve). Death was a merciful outcome for Epstein, far easier than a life of infamy and toil in federal prison, which would have stood in such stark contrast to the luxuries he enjoyed in the outside world. No one is seriously claiming that Epstein is innocent or that his crimes did not merit punishment. But his death by his own hand had an inevitability about it. Neither his lawyers nor the Bureau of Prisons nor his accusers nor the massive apparatus that punishes sex offenders could have prevented it.