Jeffrey Epstein's apparent death by suicide has raised questions over how he managed to kill himself while supposedly under stringent watch.
The convicted sex offender and wealthy financier was found dead on Saturday morning in his prison cell, as he was facing a maximum sentence of 45 years on accusations of sexually exploiting and trafficking dozens of underage girls.
It is standard procedure for guards in protective housing units to check on inmates every 30 minutes, but new reports suggest this didn't occur because of short staffing and prison guards working overtime.
As speculation continues to mount over the nature of Epstein's death, officials have cast doubt on the availability of surveillance footage, saying it's unlikely the apparent suicide was captured on film.
EPSTEIN'S FINAL HOURS BEFORE DEATH
In 9 South, the floor of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre's Special Housing Unit where Epstein was housed, suicide is supposed to be next to impossible.
The one-time friend of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton had previously been on suicide watch there, likely without access to a belt or shoelaces, and was supposed to be monitored closely and frequently by guards.
On Friday morning, the day before his death, thousands of documents from a civil suit were released, providing lewd accounts accusing the wealthy financier of sexually abusing underage girls.
According to The New York Times, Epstein was supposed to be checked by the two guards in the protective housing unit every 30 minutes, but the procedure was not followed the night he died.
Both of the guards overseeing his unit were reportedly working overtime, with one on his fifth straight day of extra hours and the other forced to remain on duty, the outlet reported.
Epstein's cell mate had been transferred out at the time of his death, leaving him alone for just two weeks after he was taken off suicide watch — a move that also violated the prison's standard protocol.
At 6.30am on Saturday, Epstein's guards went to check on him and found him dead in his prison cell after having apparently hung himself.
Staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre frantically tried to revive him while a call was placed to first responders, according to the FDNY and Bureau of Prisons.
Photos taken of the convicted paedophile around 7.30am showed him still wearing his orange prison jumpsuit as he was wheeled on a gurney into New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was later declared dead.
His body remained at the hospital until Saturday afternoon when it was picked up and transported to the Medical Examiner's Office. According to The New York Post, a second van was parked at a separate door during the transportation to distract the crowd of media personnel and photographers gathered at the hospital.
Officials say it's unlikely there is surveillance footage of Epstein's death.
Law-enforcement officials told the Post that, although there were cameras in the 9 South wing where the convicted paedophile was being held, they were trained on the areas outside the cells and not inside.
Likewise, a former Bureau of Prisons employee with knowledge of the facility told Fox News there might be surveillance video, as not every cell had cameras due to privacy concerns.
New York Attorney-General Letitia James, who said she's toured the MCC, said she found it "very difficult to understand how something like this could have happened".
"My understanding is that he should have been on suicide watch and the people on suicide watch are placed in a type of jumpsuit that wouldn't allow them to hurt themselves or others," she said.
QUESTIONS RAISED OVER EPSTEIN'S DEATH
The assumed lack of security footage will no doubt add to the mounting speculation that Epstein's death was assisted.
A former inmate of the Metropolitan Correction Centre told the Post: "There's no way that man could have killed himself. I've done too much time in those units. It's an impossibility."
Former US attorney Preet Bharara tweeted that he was "dumbfounded" by Epstein's death.
"There should be — and almost certainly is — video of Epstein's suicide at MCC," he said. "One hopes it is complete, conclusive and secured."
US Representative Jerry Nadler, Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, later reiterated Mr Bharara's demands, writing: "Deeply disturbed to learn of Jeffrey Epstein's death while supposedly on watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre.
"There are many questions that need to be answered in this case," he added.
One former inmate, Uzair Paracha, who was held there for two years until 2005, wrote he was subjected to frequent strip searches, isolation from other prisoners and lights that were left on 22 or 23 hours per day.
"If he killed himself someone had to have helped him," Lewis Kasman, a one-time close confidant of the late mobster John Gotti Sr, who visited the godfather several times at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in 1992, told The Post.
"There are cameras going 24/7 and they're watching 24/7. Someone had to give (Epstein) the equipment to kill himself and he had to pay for it dearly," said Kasman, who has kept abreast of conditions in the lockup.
Kasman added: "That facility for years had issues of corruption, with correction officers bringing in food or cell phones for wealthy people."
Attorney-General William Barr, calling for an investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general's office, said he was "appalled" to learn of Epstein's death while in federal custody.
"Mr Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered," Barr said in a statement.
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