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Questions Abound After Epstein Is Found Dead In His Jail Cell

Aug 12, 2019
Originally published on August 12, 2019 11:28 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Attorney General William Barr says the FBI will investigate the apparent suicide of wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell early Saturday. Barr said today Epstein's death will not end any quest for justice for his alleged victims.

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WILLIAM BARR: Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.

GREENE: I want to begin our coverage with NPR's Ryan Lucas, who covers the Justice Department. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So give us the latest. What exactly do we know about Epstein's death and how this may have happened while he was in custody here?

LUCAS: Well, there still aren't a lot of answers. There are a lot of questions that have continued to kind of simmer on this whole thing. But his death has raised so many questions in large part because, in July, Epstein had put on - been put on suicide watch after an apparent suicide attempt.

Now, a source tells me that he was taken off of suicide watch in late July. He was on it for only a couple of days. Instead, he was placed in this special housing unit where he had a cellmate and prison staff was to check in on him every 30 minutes.

Now, I'm told that, in the hours leading up to Epstein's death, the cellmate was not there, and Epstein was not being checked on. The cellmate had been transferred out. No one had replaced him, as should have happened under protocol, from what I'm told. So questions as to how all of that went down. Now, New York City's chief medical examiner said yesterday that her office had done an autopsy on Epstein. The office said it hadn't reached a determination as to the cause of death, pending further information.

GREENE: But this is just still mind-boggling that - I mean, he - there were so many reasons why he should have been watched closely here, right?

LUCAS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. The suicide - apparent suicide attempt in July being chief among them. But then on Friday, there were hundreds and hundreds of court documents related to Epstein that came out by the order of a federal court. These documents were related to a lawsuit brought by one of the women who says that she was sexually abused and trafficked by Epstein. Some of these records were sworn depositions.

There are new allegations in there about how Epstein allegedly brought underage girls into this sex trafficking ring. They also contain new allegations against other prominent men who allegedly had sex with girls through Epstein. Those include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. They - for their part, they have both denied those allegations.

GREENE: All right, so you have the attorney general, William Barr, saying he was appalled by this, instructing the Justice Department's inspector general to look into Epstein's death. The FBI is investigating. What are the questions they're trying to answer?

LUCAS: Well, first and foremost, I'm told that this is a priority. The FBI deputy director, David Bowdich, has been providing updates to the deputy attorney general - so the No. 2 at the Justice Department - every three hours or so throughout the day. The big question of course, though, is, you know, how Epstein managed to be in his cell, alone and not checked in on by guards every half hour, as he was supposed to be. Protocol appears not to have been followed in this case, in this instance, and investigators are of course going to want to find out why.

GREENE: And then another big question is, what options remain here for the alleged victims? I mean, what - who are still looking for justice. What can they and their lawyers do now?

LUCAS: Well, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York said that his investigation continues into this sex trafficking - alleged sex trafficking conspiracy. He urged anyone to come forward with more information. And then of course there's a possibility to pursue civil suits for the victims.

GREENE: All right, NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.