WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr said in an interview published on Friday that the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of sex trafficking, in a secure federal prison resulted from “a perfect storm of screw-ups,” rather than any nefarious act.
Mr. Barr’s statement refuted suggestions from members of Mr. Epstein’s family that he may have been murdered. His remarks came the same week that two prison guards were criminally charged, accused in an indictment of failing to check on Mr. Epstein every half-hour as they were required to and then lying about it on prison logs.
“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,” Mr. Barr said in an interview with The Associated Press as he flew to Montana on Thursday night.
Mr. Epstein’s death in August at a federal detention center in Manhattan set off a rash of unfounded conspiracy theories on social media that were picked up and repeated by high-profile figures, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. No matter their ideology, the refrain of the theories was the same: Something did not add up.
Even after New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide by hanging, conspiracy theories continued to percolate on the internet after lawyers for Mr. Epstein challenged that finding. Then Mr. Epstein’s family hired a forensic pathologist, who claimed that the broken bones and cartilage in Mr. Epstein’s neck “points to homicide.”
Mr. Barr said that he, too, was initially suspicious. How could someone who had been on suicide watch kill himself in one of the most secure jails in America? In the interview, he said that his concerns were sparked by the number of irregularities at the jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Mr. Epstein was being held awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges.
But investigations by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s Inspector General have put to rest those suspicions, Mr. Barr said. Instead, he has concluded that Mr. Epstein was able to kill himself after a series of human errors by prison officials and guards.
Mr. Barr said that the Justice Department was still investigating other aspects of Mr. Epstein’s death, including why he did not have a cellmate the night he hanged himself, even though he had recently been on a suicide watch. Typically people at risk of suicide are not housed alone.
“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,” Mr. Barr said. “The systems to assure that was done were not followed.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging two jail employees, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, who were responsible for guarding Mr. Epstein through the night and morning that he died.
Federal prosecutors accused the guards of shopping online, browsing the internet and sleeping while they should have been conducting regular checks of Mr. Epstein’s cell. They were charged with conspiracy and falsifying records to make it look as if they had performed their duties.
The evening Mr. Epstein died, from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., security cameras showed that nobody entered the wing where Mr. Epstein killed himself, alone in his cell, the government indictment said. He was discovered when the guards entered to bring him breakfast.
Both Mr. Thomas and Ms. Noel had rejected a plea deal. They have pleaded not guilty.
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