Jeffrey Epstein suicide: What to know about the investigation and more

The wealthy financier and alleged child sex-trafficker hanged himself in his jail cell, a spokeswoman for the city Office of Chief Medical Examiner said Friday.

The city medical examiner’s office has determined the cause of Jeffrey Epstein’s death at a federal jail in lower Manhattan last weekend was "suicide by hanging," a spokeswoman said Friday.

Epstein, an accused child sex-trafficker, was found unconscious and unresponsive in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Saturday. 

Learn more below about Epstein’s death, the sex-trafficking allegations, his high-profile political connections and more.

Epstein was found alone in his cell after suicide

Epstein, 66, was found unconscious after he hanged himself while alone in his cell, according to officials and the medical examiner’s office. He was rushed to NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy was completed on Sunday, but chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson had said the cause of death was pending further investigation. The autopsy showed that Epstein’s neck had been broken in several places, two law enforcement sources said.

"At the request of those representing the decedent, and with the awareness of the federal prosecutor, I allowed a private pathologist (Dr. Michael Baden) to observe the autopsy examination. This is routine practice,” Sampson said in a statement.

Baden, a former NYC chief medical examiner, was hired by Epstein’s attorneys, The New York Times reported.

Epstein had previously been on suicide watch after he was found injured in his cell in July. He was taken off suicide watch 11 days before his death, a decision by U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials that has come under scrutiny. It was not clear why Epstein, who was found alone in his cell, was taken off suicide watch. 

The sex-trafficking allegations

Epstein, who was already a registered sex offender, was accused of sexually touching dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14 years old, who were hired to provide nude massages at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach between 2002 and 2005. He was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy and sex-trafficking charges.

While executing a search warrant at his Upper East Side mansion, investigators discovered hundreds of photos of naked young women, as well as an Austrian passport with Epstein’s picture but a fake name.

He was denied bail after U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who was presiding over the case, deemed him to be a flight risk and a danger to the public. Epstein was found injured in his cell, and subsequently placed on suicide watch, after he was denied bail.

Berman released a statement Monday calling Epstein’s death a “tragedy to everyone involved” in the case.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the case was personally important to him and that the financier’s death denied his victims the chance to confront him in a courtroom. He also vowed that the investigation into Epstein’s alleged sex crimes would continue.

“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” he said.

Epstein’s sex offender status stems from a 2008 case in Florida, where he pleaded guilty to state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex. He served a 13-month sentence in addition to registering as a sex offender as part of a deal to avoid federal charges.

That case has come under renewed criticism given the new allegations. Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump’s former labor secretary, resigned from the position in July amid outrage over how he handled the case while he was the U.S. attorney for southern Florida.

A day before Epstein died, documents containing graphic allegations against him were released in connection with a settled lawsuit that was filed by an ex-girlfriend, who is also one of his accusers. The documents also included a copy of a 2016 deposition in which Epstein refused to answer questions to avoid incriminating himself.

The investigation into Epstein’s death

Barr, who asked the Justice Department to investigate Epstein’s death, has said there were "serious irregularities" at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

"I was appalled — and indeed the whole department was — and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner," Barr said. "We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation."

Barr did not say what those irregularities were, but a day later he ordered several staff shakeups at the jail. MCC’s warden was removed, while two corrections officers who were assigned to Epstein’s unit were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations.

"Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant," Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

A source told The New York Times that correction officers who were working on overtime due to staffing shortages did not check on Epstein every 30 minutes, as they were required to.

Victims’ lawsuits

A New York woman who said she was sexually assaulted by Epstein at the age of 14 sued the disgraced financier’s estate and a former associate on Wednesday, in the start of an expected wave of lawsuits.

Jennifer Araoz, 32, said in her complaint that she was starting out in high school when an Epstein associate brought her to the financier’s massive mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, beginning a grooming process that led to months of sexual abuse, including what she called a "brutal rape."

The lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court is among the first of a series by women made possible by the state’s Child Victims Act, which opens a one-year window to sue over alleged sexual abuse regardless of how long ago it occurred.

Araoz’s lawsuit says former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell facilitated Epstein’s abuse of several girls by overseeing their recruitment and "ensuring that approximately three girls a day were made available to him for his sexual pleasure."

Araoz told reporters on a conference call she was "angry" that Epstein’s death meant he would never face her in court but wanted to exercise her legal rights in civil court.

"Today is my first step toward reclaiming my power Jeffrey Epstein and his enablers stole from me," she said. "They robbed me of my youth, my identity, my innocence and my self-worth."

The other three unnamed defendants in Araoz’s lawsuit, all women who allegedly worked for Epstein in New York, include a maid, a secretary, and a "recruiter" who helped procure underage girls for him.

Conspiracy theories over Epstein’s high-profile connections

Epstein’s death has sparked many unfounded conspiracy theories that he was killed in order to keep him from incriminating the wealthy and high-profile people he was known to associate with. 

Before his Florida sex crimes case in 2008, Epstein had counted Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his associates.

Both politicians have distanced themselves from Epstein since his arrest. But shortly after Epstein’s apparent suicide, Trump retweeted a post that suggested Clinton was somehow tied to his death.

Trump defended his decision to retweet the unfounded conspiracy theory from conservative comedian Terrence K. Williams.

"He’s a very highly respected conservative pundit," Trump said of Williams. "He’s a big Trump fan. And that was a retweet. That wasn’t from me. … So I think I was fine."

Over the years, Epstein was also known to run in the same social circles as Prince Andrew of Britain and L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner, as well as many other high-profile politicians and business executives.

With Reuters and Newsday

Lauren Cook