Epstein was placed on suicide watch last month but then taken off within about a week, a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Washington Post. But he was subject to higher security in a special housing unit.
People close to Epstein were surprised by reports about the nature of his death, according to an individual familiar with their discussions. His lawyers are asking authorities for more information on how the incident occurred.
What happens to the case now?
Epstein’s death comes a day after new documents pertaining to his global sex-trafficking ring were unsealed in court filings on Friday. He was a registered sex offender who prosecutors allege trafficked and abused dozens of young girls, and was facing up to 45 years in prison.
On Saturday, Attorney General William P. Barr said that he was “appalled” after hearing about the suspect’s death and that many questions would need to be answered, according to a Justice Department statement. Barr said he “consulted with the Inspector General who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein’s death.”
Because Epstein is dead, the criminal case is over, but that doesn’t mean all investigations surrounding the allegations will cease, said Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor.
He said investigators may now turn to others who were accused of being involved with the sex-trafficking activities. According to Butler, this is partly because accusers feel they haven’t received justice.
“Even though the criminal prosecution of Mr. Epstein ended this morning, there remained questions about co-conspirators,” Butler said.
Attorneys representing some accusers said they will continue to seek justice.
“There’s a whole network that enabled him and allowed this to happen, and it’s time that everyone who was a part of this be held accountable,” said Kimberly Lerner, an attorney for one of Epstein’s accusers.
Jennifer Araoz, Lerner’s client and one of the women who has accused Epstein, said in a statement that she and others will have to “live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed — the pain and trauma he caused so many people.”
“Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served. I hope the authorities will pursue and prosecute his accomplices and enablers, and ensure redress for his victims,” Araoz said.
Brad Edwards, a lawyer who represents some of the other accuser said: “The fact that Jeffrey Epstein was able to commit the selfish act of taking his own life as his world of abuse, exploitation, and corruption unraveled is both unfortunate and predictable. While he and I engaged in contentious legal battles for more than a decade, this is not the ending anyone was looking for. The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused.”
How are lawmakers reacting?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reacted to Saturday’s news with frustration and sadness. Reactions were especially strong from New York and Florida, where Epstein had residences and allegations were made.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “We need answers. Lots of them.”
Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said the “victims have once again been denied their day in court.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a statement on Saturday: “The victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s heinous actions deserved an opportunity for justice. Today, that opportunity was denied to them. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said on Twitter he couldn’t “even begin to imagine how many horrific secrets this sick perv is taking to the grave.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in a letter to Barr: “Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him. Given Epstein’s previous attempted suicide, he should have been locked in a padded room under unbroken, 24/7, constant surveillance. Obviously, heads must roll.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted he was “pleased the @TheJusticeDept Inspector General and FBI will be investigating. There are many questions that need to be answered in this case.”
On Saturday afternoon, Trump retweeted conspiracy theories that blamed the Clintons for Epstein’s death. Earlier in the day, Trump appointee Lynn Patton, an administrator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), similarly targeted Hillary Clinton in an Instagram post.
What do we know about the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was found dead?
The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan has held various criminals, ranging from Bernard Madoff, who orchestrated an enormous Ponzi scheme, to notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. In June, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was moved to the MCC, The Post reported.
According to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al-Qaeda conspirator, the prison at Guantanamo Bay was “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the federal facility, the New York Times reported in 2010.
What do we know about suicide in jail?
Suicide is the most common cause of death in jails, where 50 of every 100,000 inmates died by suicide in 2014 — a rate 3.5 times that of the general population, the Associated Press reported. High rates of addicted and mentally ill people behind bars are believed to contribute to the problem, as well as possible poor treatment of inmates and the stress of being incarcerated.
Among the most high-profile inmate suicides in recent years is the death of Sandra Bland, a Texas woman whom police say they pulled over in July 2015 because she failed to signal while she changed lanes. Authorities said Bland, 28, hanged herself within three days of being arrested on a charge of assaulting an officer.
In the year after Bland’s death, at least 815 people died by suicide in U.S. jails, HuffPost reported. Suicides accounted for nearly one-third of the jail deaths counted by the news organization, which said its numbers were incomplete because of lack of access to data.
Former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein said Saturday on Twitter that preventing self-harm by people accused of pedophilia is difficult. A report in the journal Federal Probation that he posted says defendants charged with sex crimes often experience suicidal ideation because of shame and the likelihood of a prison sentence.
The report cites a suicide prevention program in the Central District of California that involves a psychological assessment, support group sessions, cognitive behavioral therapy, lessons on healthy coping skills and education about the federal prison system. None of the 100 defendants that had gone through the program when the report was released had died by suicide.
In addition to whether a defendant is a flight risk and the likelihood that they will commit criminal activity, the report said, judges should consider the risk of suicide when deciding whether to grant someone pretrial release.
Colby Itkowitz, Joshua Partlow, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Renae Merle and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.