NEW YORK (AFP) – Outrage and intrigue over the apparent suicide in prison of well-connected accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein soared Sunday as US lawmakers pushed for answers, including whether “criminal acts” played a role in his death.
Epstein, a convicted pedophile who hobnobbed with countless politicians and celebrities over the years, was found dead in his cell Saturday while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked underage girls for sex.
The discovery came a day after a court released documents in which one of Epstein’s alleged victims claimed she was forced to have sex with well-known American political and business personalities. They have all denied the allegations.
Epstein’s death in a high-security New York jail, an apparent suicide that came just weeks after an earlier possible attempt on his own life, meant he should have been under close watch and has fueled anger and a conspiracy theory frenzy.
“These survivors deserved a day in court. They deserved justice,” Democratic Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said Sunday.
“It is a shame that he committed suicide,” she told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
New York’s chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson said Sunday that an autopsy had been completed, but the determination of cause of death was “pending further information at this time.”
The procedure was observed by an outside pathologist at the request of Epstein’s representatives, she added.
US Attorney General Bill Barr has instructed the Justice Department’s inspector general to probe Epstein’s death, saying it “raises serious questions that must be answered.”
The New York Times reported Sunday that guards were supposed to check Epstein every half hour but that procedure was not followed the night before he was found, citing an unnamed law enforcement official.
The jail had also transferred his cellmate, leaving him alone, the Times said.
Epstein, 66, had been charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
Prosecutors said Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teens, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005.
The young women were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors alleged.
Epstein denied the charges and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.