Convicted sex offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein died Saturday of an apparent suicide while in custody, but the broken bones in his neck are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation than hanging, experts said.
An autopsy found that Epstein had broken bones in his neck including the hyoid bone near the Adam’s apple, Washington Post reported. Such breaks can happen in hangings, especially in older men, forensics experts said. But they show up more often in people who have been strangled.
Attorney General William P. Barr, who oversees the Bureau of Prisons facility where Epstein died, described his death as an “apparent suicide.”
However, an autopsy of Epstein’s body lists the cause of his death as pending, according to the office of New York City chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson.
Generally, a broken hyoid requires pathologists to do a more extensive investigation that can include analysis of the noose, said Jonathan L. Arden, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. Arden was not involved in the Epstein autopsy.
“If hypothetically, the hyoid bone is broken, that would generally raise questions about strangulation, but it is not definitive and does not exclude suicidal hanging,” Arden told the Washington Post.
Hyoid damage was found in 16 of 264 suicidal hangings — 6 percent — according to a study of young adults and middle-aged people in India, conducted from 2010 to 2013.
In 2008, Ronnie L. White, a Black teenager accused of killing a police officer, died of an apparent suicide in a Washington jail cell. The cause of death was later changed to homicide when a medical examiner discovered the teen had a broken hyoid. No one was ever charged in White’s death.
The hyoid bone played a central role in Eric Garner’s death after a police officer was accused of strangling him during an arrest. The cop’s defense said he couldn’t have strangled Garner because there was no break in Garner’s hyoid bone. A video of Garner’s death in 2014 incident shows the officer grabbing Garner around the neck and pushing his face into the pavement. Garner is overheard pleading, “I can’t breathe.”
New York City chief medical examiner Sampson later concluded the officer’s actions were the primary cause of Garner’s death.
There was shouting and shrieking from Epstein’s jail cell the morning of his death, a source told CBS News. Corrections officers tried to revive him, saying “breathe, Epstein, breathe.”
One of Epstein’s guards at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on the night he died was reportedly not a regular corrections officer.
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Epstein’s name has been linked to famous friends and acquaintances including President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Prince Andrew The Duke of York, New York Daily News former owner Mort Zuckerman, and actor-director Woody Allen.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Barr blamed the jail for failure to secure such a high-profile prisoner, threatening that “there will be accountability.”
“I was appalled and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Barr said.
The attorney general, who earned the nickname “The Coverup General,” is seen as having a conflict of interest in the Epstein case. Barr’s father, once the headmaster of the exclusive Dalton private school in Manhattan in the 1970s, hired Epstein to teach math to children despite Epstein not having a college degree. Barr worked for the same law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, that represented Epstein when Epstein was being investigated in Florida. Barr should have recused himself from overseeing the current prosecution, former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi told CNBC.