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60 Minutes investigates the death of Jeffrey Epstein

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60 Minutes investigates the death of Jeffrey Epstein

This report contains graphic images that some viewers may find disturbing.In July 2019, Jeffrey Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was arrested and charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors. On August 10, Epstein was found dead in his federal jail cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled…

60 Minutes investigates the death of Jeffrey Epstein thumbnail

This report contains graphic images that some viewers may find disturbing.


In July 2019, Jeffrey Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was arrested and charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors. On August 10, Epstein was found dead in his federal jail cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Epstein’s death a suicide by hanging, but a forensic pathologist who observed the four-hour autopsy on behalf of  Epstein’s brother, Mark, tells 60 Minutes the evidence released so far points more to murder than suicide in his view. Dr. Michael Baden’s key reason: the unusual fractures he saw in Epstein’s neck.

“There were fractures of the left, the right thyroid cartilage and the left hyoid bone,” Baden said. “I have never seen three fractures like this in a suicidal hanging.”

“Going over a thousand jail hangings, suicides in the New York City state prisons over the past 40-50 years, no one had three fractures,” Baden said.

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Dr. Michael Baden

The medical examiner’s office said it stands “firmly” behind its finding of suicide by hanging, arguing that fractures of the hyoid bone and cartilage can be seen in both suicides and homicides.

Still, questions linger.

Epstein was directing money to be deposited in other inmates’ commissary accounts in exchange for protection, sources say, because he feared for his life. But the government says Epstein was suicidal and made his first, failed suicide attempt weeks after he arrived at MCC. 

According to a federal indictment, on July 23 Epstein was found “on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.” The government says it was a failed suicide attempt, but Epstein claimed his cellmate, 52-year-old former police officer Nick Tartaglione, attacked him. Tartaglione, who is accused of murdering four men, denied that and his lawyer says: “Absolutely nothing like that happened.” His lawyer also says Tartaglione was cleared by jail officials.

Epstein was put on suicide watch after the incident, but one week later, “at the direction of the MCC’s psychological staff,” he was taken off suicide watch and “required to have an assigned cellmate.”

Cameron Lindsay, a former federal warden and prison consultant, told 60 Minutes this was “a monumental failure on all levels.”

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Cameron Lindsay

Epstein was moved back to his old unit and assigned a new cellmate, but the night before his death, Epstein’s cellmate was released. According to court documents, “no new cellmate was assigned” before he died, even though he was required to have one.

That night, federal prosecutors say, “Epstein was escorted into his cell by Tova Noel at approximately 7:49 p.m.” Noel and Michael Thomas, the two guards who were working the overnight shift in Epstein’s unit, allegedly didn’t check on him again until “shortly after 6:30 a.m.” the next morning.

The two guards have been charged with falsifying documents and conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Lindsay told 60 Minutes the guards should have been checking on Epstein every half hour.

“It’s my understanding, based on the documents that I examined, the two officers that were working in the Special Housing Unit allegedly falsified the records and did not do any rounds for approximately eight hours.” Lindsay said. “That’s a huge, huge deal. This is one of the most basic operational aspects of managing a jail or prison.”

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Jeffrey Epstein, seen in a March 28, 2017, image provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry.

New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP


Federal prosecutors say surveillance video “makes clear” that the guards “search[ed] the internet” and “appear to have been asleep” on their overnight overtime shift. One thing the video may not show, according to sources, is Epstein’s cell door and the doors of the other inmates on his unit tier. Sources say the camera that should have captured those angles was corrupted the night of Epstein’s death. Epstein’s cell was about 15 feet away and up a set of stairs from the guards’ station, with a single locked gate between them.

As 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi told Lindsay in their interview, the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death seem almost unbelievable.

“So Epstein’s taken off suicide watch, the day before he kills himself, his roommate is removed from the cell. The cameras on his tier are not working. The guards fell asleep. It seems almost impossible to think all of those things could happen in that way,” Alfonsi said.

Lindsay agreed.

“And that’s what makes this so shocking,” Lindsay said. “And I mean, this is a failure on multiple levels.”

But Lindsay said he thinks there’s “absolutely, unequivocally” no way Epstein could have been murdered.

Jeffrey Epstein’s autopsy: A closer look

60 Minutes reviewed hundreds of graphic photographs from Epstein’s autopsy and inside his cell. There are multiple nooses, a bit of orange sheet tied to the grate of a window. On the top bunk, bottles and medicines stand upright. Below it, another piece of fabric is tied through a hole on the bed about four feet from the ground.

Did Epstein, who was nearly 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, somehow lean in and hang himself from the lower bunk? We don’t know.

Dr. Baden, the forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family, says the noose that was sketched and included in the autopsy report doesn’t appear to match the wounds on Epstein’s neck. And Baden says, the ligature mark was in the middle of Epstein’s neck, not beneath the jawbone, as one would expect in a hanging. Also puzzling to Baden is that Epstein would make a noose out of a bedsheet when wires and cords were present in his cell, as photographs show.

There are not any photos of Epstein’s body in his cell, Baden says – he was rushed to an emergency room after guard Michael Thomas found him. But Baden believes, based on the autopsy, Epstein had been dead for two hours by then and he says the scene should have been treated as a crime scene, leaving the body alone. Federal Bureau of Prisons protocol mandates a suicide scene should be treated with the “same level of protection as any crime scene in which a death has occurred.”

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An image the New York City medical examiner’s office took of Epstein’s jail cell

Baden has taken several controversial positions over his decades-long career. And he told 60 Minutes he understands that people might think his opinion is biased because he’s being paid by Epstein’s brother.

“But our job is to find what the truth is, “Baden said. “Just to find out whether it’s a homicide or a suicide.”  He also said “I hesitate, as usual, to make a final opinion until all the evidence is in.”

And Baden said, at this point, he doesn’t have all the information needed to make a final conclusion. The Justice Department told the family, they say, that it won’t release the video pertaining to the case and additional forensic testing because of the ongoing criminal case against the two guards on duty the night of Epstein’s death.

The charges have also silenced the guards themselves. Michael Thomas’s attorney Montell Figgins says Thomas still hasn’t spoken to investigators or revealed how he, alone, found Epstein’s body, a key piece of information in any death investigation.

One member of the Justice Department who has gone on record about the case is Attorney General William Barr. He told reporters in November he personally reviewed surveillance video that showed nobody entered the area where Epstein was held. Sources say he may be talking about surveillance video above the guard area or at the entrance to the Special Housing Unit. But this remains to be seen as the Department of Justice would not comment to 60 Minutes about which cameras were working that night.

And then there are Epstein’s victims, who never got their day in court to face Epstein. Many are now angry that the investigation into his death has left so many questions still unanswered.


Below is the full transcript of the 60 Minutes report, “Inside Jeffrey Epstein’s Cell.”

Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has been accused of sexually assaulting countless teenage girls. Last July, the wealthy financier was arrested and many of his victims were looking forward to finally facing him in court. But weeks after his arrest, Epstein was found dead in his jail cell. The medical examiner concluded that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself.

Since then, conspiracy theories have flourished. Epstein was connected to a long list of rich and powerful people. Some suspect he was killed because of what he knew or what he threatened to tell.

How did one of the most high profile inmates in the country end up dead in a federal jail? After a five-month investigation, 60 Minutes has obtained photos, some of them graphic autopsy photos, and evidence from inside Jeffrey Epstein’s cell.

This is the cell where Jeffrey Epstein was found on Saturday morning, August 10, 2019. There are dozens of photos taken by the medical examiner’s office that day. On the floor, a mattress and piles of sheets. Several nooses that appear to be fashioned from the orange bed linens are laid out. His medicines photographed but no body.

Sharyn Alfonsi:  Is there a photograph of when he was found dead in the cell?

Dr. Michael Baden:  No. There— there’s no photograph taken of Mr. Epstein in the cell.

Dr. Michael Baden observed the four-hour autopsy for Jeffrey Epstein’s brother, Mark. Baden, a renowned forensic pathologist who’s taken controversial positions over his decades-long career, is investigating Epstein’s death for his client.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you think there was foul play here? 

Dr. Michael Baden: The forensic evidence released so far, including autopsy, point much more to murder and strangulation than the suicide and suicidal hanging. I hesitate to make a final opinion, until all the evidence is in.

Sharyn Alfonsi: People will say, “Well, you’re being paid by Mark Epstein. So of course you’re gonna say that something suspicious is going on.”

Dr. Michael Baden: That’s a reasonable thing for some people to think. But our job is to find what the truth is. Just to find out whether it’s a homicide or a suicide.  Uh, we’re, still haven’t gotten all the information.

Guards found Epstein “at approximately 6:33am” and sources say one of them could be overheard saying, “Breathe, Epstein, breathe.”  Dr. Baden believes, based on the autopsy, that Epstein died around 4:30 that morning. Two hours earlier. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: The guards say they came in at 6:30. They found him. They call emergency services. They tried to do CPR with him, but he’s dead. But rather than leave the body there they take the body to an emergency room.

Dr. Michael Baden: Yeah.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is that normal protocol?

Dr. Michael Baden: No, that’s —that’s not normal protocol. The EMS people normally, and especially in a jail, should not move a dead body.

He’s right. Bureau of Prisons protocol mandates a suicide scene should be treated with the “same level of protection as any crime scene in which a death has occurred.”

60 Minutes reviewed hundreds of graphic photographs from the autopsy of Jeffrey Epstein and inside his cell. There are two nooses, a bit of orange sheet tied to the grate of a window. On the top bunk, bottles and medicines stand upright. Below it, another piece of fabric is tied through a hole on the bed about four feet from the ground.

Did Epstein, who was nearly 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, somehow lean in and hang himself from the lower bunk?  We don’t know.

These are the known facts. On July 6, Jeffrey Epstein was booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, in downtown Manhattan. A federal, high-security holding facility for inmates awaiting trial. Suicides at the MCC are rare. The last one was 14 years ago. The jail has temporarily housed everyone from Mexican drug lord El Chapo to mafia boss John Gotti and fraudster Bernie Madoff.

Bruce Barket: MCC is the worst jail or prison I’ve ever been to by far. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: It’s not a “Club Fed.”

Bruce Barket: It’s not a club anything. It is dirty. It’s insect infested, rodent infested. It was built for about 350 and houses over 700. So the inmates are packed in. 

Bruce Barket is the lawyer for Epstein’s first cellmate, 52-year-old Nick Tartaglione. A brawny, former police officer accused of murdering four men. They shared a cell in the “SHU,” the Special Housing Unit, which is considered safer than general population.

Bruce Barket: Jail’s a tough place. The rules don’t exist the way they do in society. Somebody like Jeffrey Epstein, you know, an elderly, rich white male is gonna have a tough time in general population.

Epstein was directing money to be deposited in other inmates’ commissary accounts in exchange for his protection, sources say, because he feared for his life. But the government says Epstein was suicidal and made his first, failed suicide attempt weeks after he arrived.

According to court documents, on July 23, a guard found Epstein, “on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.” Epstein claimed his cellmate, Nick Tartaglione, attacked him.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Epstein says that Nick tried to kill him. Nick says, “Absolutely nothing like that happened”?

Bruce Barket: It’s not just Nick says, “Absolutely nothing happened.” Absolutely nothing happened. No one says that Nick tried to kill Epstein. 

Epstein was moved to the psych unit and placed on suicide watch. But one week later, Epstein, “at the direction of the MCC’s psychological staff” was taken off suicide watch and “required to have an assigned cellmate.”

Cameron Lindsay: This was a monumental failure on all levels. And that’s why it has fueled the conspiracies and I understand that.

Cameron Lindsay is a former federal prison warden.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Who should’ve made sure that he wasn’t taken off suicide watch, in your opinion?

Cameron Lindsay: The leadership of the facility should’ve stepped in and said, “While I appreciate the perspective of you, chief psychologist, I’m gonna override that decision and we’re going to leave Epstein on suicide watch.” Especially subsequent to the suicide attempt that he had.

Epstein was moved back to the SHU and assigned a new cellmate.

 

We reviewed photos, and interviewed jail employees, to create this composite of the area. Each tier of the SHU has eight cells, usually with two inmates per cell. Epstein’s cell, 220, was about 15 feet away and up a set of stairs from the guards’ station, with a single locked gate between them. The gate is the only way in or out of the tier.

Lawyers say the day before Epstein was found dead he was upbeat and looking forward to an appeal hearing on his bail. That same day, his cellmate was released and “no new cellmate was assigned.” Even though he was required to have one.

Michael Thomas and Tova Noel are the two guards who were working the overnight shift on the SHU. Court documents say, “Epstein was escorted into his cell by Tova Noel at approximately 7:49 p.m.”  Then, the guards didn’t check in on him again until “shortly after 6:30 a.m.” the next morning.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So in the SHU they should be checked in on every 30 minutes?

Cameron Lindsay: They should be checked on every 30 minutes. It’s my understanding based on the documents that I examined, the two officers that were working in the Special Housing Unit allegedly falsified the records and did not do any rounds for approximately eight hours. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: How big of a deal is that?

Cameron Lindsay: That’s a huge, huge deal. This is one of the most basic operational aspects of managing a jail or prison.

Instead, federal prosecutors say surveillance video “makes clear” the guards “search the internet” and “appeared to have been asleep.” Both guards were working overtime.

Tyrone Covington: When your being forced to stay over shifts, not go home and see your family you start to see people take short cuts.

Tyrone Covington is the president of the union that represents the guards who both now face criminal charges and have pleaded not guilty.

Tyrone Covington:  I absolutely believe that these staff members are being made a scapegoat.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Because it was Jeffrey Epstein?

Tyrone Covington: Because it was Jeffrey Epstein.

Covington doesn’t think there was any foul play and he says there should be surveillance video to prove it.

In November, Attorney General William Barr told reporters he personally reviewed surveillance video that showed nobody entered the area where Epstein was held.

But sources say a second camera inside the tier, the one that could have seen Epstein’s cell door and the doors of other inmates, was not working that night.

Sharyn Alfonsi: The theories that are out there, one of them is that it was another inmate who may have killed Jeffrey Epstein.

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Bruce Barket:  Come on!

Sharyn Alfonsi:  You don’t believe that?

Bruce Barket: He was found hanging in his cell. He had tried to commit suicide before that.  He was a very wealthy man who was looking at a lifetime in prison.  You know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So Epstein’s taken off suicide watch, the day before he kills himself, his roommate is— removed from the cell. The cameras on his tier are not working. The guards fell asleep. It seems almost impossible to think all of those things could happen in that way.

Cameron Lindsay: It does. And that’s what makes this so shocking. And I mean, this is a failure on multiple levels. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you think there’s any way that Jeffrey Epstein could have been murdered?

Cameron Lindsay: Absolutely, unequivocally not.

There was a note in Jeffrey Epstein’s cell. He wrote that one guard kept me in a locked shower stall for one hour. Noel (the guard) sent me burnt food. Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun.  

Dr. Michael Baden says if anyone thought Jeffrey Epstein was suicidal, they wouldn’t have let him have a ballpoint pen that could be used to harm himself or someone else.

Sharyn Alfonsi: The other thing we just noticed looking at the photos. It appears he had some kind of sleep apnea machine. You can see a long electrical cord.  

Dr. Michael Baden: Yes. There were other wires and cords present that it would’ve been easy to use to hang oneself within a few minutes.

But the key reason Dr. Baden thinks Jeffrey Epstein’s death might be a homicide is because of the unusual fractures he saw in Epstein’s neck. 

 

Dr. Michael Baden: There were fractures of the left, the right, thyroid cartilage and the left hyoid bone.

This is an autopsy photo of Epstein’s broken hyoid bone, a U-shaped bone that sits under the jaw that part of the tongue attaches to. The thyroid cartilage sits at the front of the neck. 

Dr. Michael Baden: I have never seen three fractures like this in a suicidal hanging. Sometimes there’s a fracture of the hyoid bone or a fracture of the thyroid cartilage.

Sharyn Alfonsi: But not three?

Dr. Michael Baden: Very unusual to have two and not three. And going over— over a thousand jail hangings, suicides in the New York City state prisons over the past 40-50 years, no one had three fractures.

The New York City Medical Examiner’s office disputes Baden’s theory, saying that fractures of the hyoid bone and cartilage can be seen in suicides and homicides and they stand “firmly” behind their finding of suicide by hanging.

Then, there’s the two nooses. This was the one that was sketched and included in the autopsy by the  medical examiner, presumably, because they thought it was used in Epstein’s death.

But Dr. Baden says that noose, and the wounds on Jeffrey Epstein’s neck, don’t appear to match.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What do you see when you see these two things together?

Dr. Michael Baden: What I see here is that this noose doesn’t match the ligature furrow mark. It’s wider than this. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: To the naked eye, it looks like there’s some blood here. And it doesn’t look like there’s any blood on this noose.

Dr. Michael Baden: That’s right. This looks like a clean noose that was never used to compress anybody’s neck.

Sharyn Alfonsi: There’s also something that’s striking about the photos. It— the wound is down here. You’d think if somebody hung themselves the wound would be maybe up here.

Dr. Michael Baden: Yes. Most hangings— especially free hangings the ligature  slides up to beneath the— the jawbone, the mandible. Here it’s in the middle of the neck. 

Dr. Baden says a wound straight across the neck is more common when a victim is strangled by a wire or cord.

He and Epstein’s brother, Mark, met with the government and asked to see any forensic testing and any video. But they say they were told the ongoing criminal case against the two guards prevents the justice department from releasing any information.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So the criminal  charges are now basically a firewall for the family to get any information about—

Dr. Michael Baden: From the Justice Department. 

The charges have also silenced the guards. The attorney for guard Michael Thomas says five months after Epstein’s death, Thomas has still not spoken to investigators or revealed how he, alone, found Epstein’s body.

Disappointed that they never got to face Epstein in court, many victims are now angry that the investigation into his death has left so many questions still unanswered.

Produced by Oriana Zill de Granados. Associate producer, Emily Gordon. Broadcast associates, Cristina Gallotto and Mabel Kabani. Edited by Michael Mongulla and Sean Kelly.

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.




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