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Speaking to reporters on November 22, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that despite having initial suspicions about the circumstances surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s death, he concluded that the billionaire financier accused of sex trafficking and sexually abusing young girls died following “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”
What did Barr say?
In an interview with the Associated Press, Barr said that he initially had concerns about Epstein’s death. He said irregularities at the jail where he was being held provoked this concern. However, after Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Department of Justice investigations, Barr concluded that a “series” of mistakes allowed Epstein to commit suicide. He said, “I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups.”
The New York Times reports that Barr’s statement refutes the Epstein conspiracy theories and claims from Epstein’s family that he was a murder victim. Epstein’s family hired a forensic pathologist who claimed that the broken bones and cartilage in his neck “points to homicide.”
Epstein’s death in August this year produced conspiracy theories and skepticism around his death has continued despite New York City’s chief medical examiner ruling his death as suicide by hanging.
Barr said he had reviewed prison security footage. According to him, the footage indicates that no one entered the area of the jail where Epstein was on the night he died. Barr said this evidence proves Epstein’s death was by suicide, rather than a murderous conspiracy.
The prison put Epstein on suicide watch after guards found him unresponsive in his cell with bruises on his neck. Prison authorities removed Epstein from suicide watch a week before his death. Although no longer on watch, he was still considered a suicide risk and it was a requirement that he had a cellmate. According to the BBC, despite this requirement, Epstein’s cellmate was moved to another prison on August 9, a day before he killed himself.
Barr revealed that the Department of Justice is investigating several aspects of Epstein’s death. One question investigators seek to answer is why Epstein was alone in his cell despite being considered at risk of suicide. “I think it was important to have a roommate in there with him and we’re looking into why that wasn’t done, and I think every indication is that was a screw-up,” Barr said. “The systems to assure that was done were not followed.”
Barr’s comments followed on two prison guards being criminally charged for not checking on Epstein. Prosecutors had accused officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas of neglecting their duties by sleeping and browsing the Internet instead of watching over Epstein. The guards were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes. Security footage shows that between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. nobody entered the wing where Epstein died. The guards only discovered he was dead when they entered the wing to bring him breakfast. According to an Associated Press report, after the guards found Epstein unresponsive in his cell, they told a supervisor that they hadn’t carried out their 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. checks.
Noel and Thomas also face charges of falsifying prison records. The guards lied about completing the required checks on Epstein in prison logs.
Lawyer argues guards made scapegoats for systemic issues
After prosecutors charged Noel and Thomas, both officers rejected a plea deal and plead not guilty.
Montell Figgins, a lawyer representing the prison officers said his clients were being scapegoated for problems within the U.S. penal system. “We had hoped that the U.S. attorney’s office would make an effort to try to address the systematic failures with respect to the Bureau of Prisons,” he said. “They chose instead to indict” the officers.
Epstein’s death has highlighted the problems within the U.S. prison system, which include staff shortages and violence, according to reports.
Epstein investigation continues
Despite the death of Epstein, Barr declared the investigation into allegations made against him continues and there is “good progress being made” in the case. Barr added that he is “hopeful in a relatively short time there will be tangible results.”
The New York Times reports that the attorney general has vowed to bring charges against anyone who helped Epstein use young women for sex. Alongside the investigation, prosecutors are seeking approval to use Epstein’s estimated $577 million estate to create a fund to settle claims by his victims in civil cases.