A defense lawyer for Jeffrey Epstein on Tuesday expressed deep skepticism that the wealthy financier died by hanging himself in a Manhattan federal jail while awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges, as a medical examiner has ruled.
The injuries suffered by Epstein are "far more consistent with assault" than suicide, the lawyer, Reid Weingarten, told Judge Richard Berman in U.S. District Court in Manhattan during a hearing.
Weingarten cited the defense's own medical sources. Broken bones were found in Epstein's neck during an autopsy after he died Aug. 10.
Such fractures are somewhat more common in cases of strangulation than in hanging.
Weingarten told the judge that when he and other defense attorneys spoke to Epstein shortly before his death "we did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person."
Weingarten's comments came during a proceeding where prosecutors were seeking the dismissal of child sex trafficking charges against the Epstein as a result of his death.
More than 20 alleged victims of Epstein spoke or had statements read during the hearing.
Another Epstein lawyer, Martin Weinberg, told Berman that the defense team had prepared a "significant" motion to dismiss the case, and that the lawyers were not approaching the case with a "futile, defeatist attitude."
Weingarten said Berman had a "pivotal role to find out what happened."
"We want the court to help us find out what happened," Weingarten said.
"We're skeptical of the certitude" of the finding of suicide by hanging by the New York City medical examiner, the lawyer said.
There are "significant doubts" regarding "the conclusion of suicide," Weingarten said.
But Maurene Comey, a federal prosecutor, told Berman that Epstein's death was already the subject of "an ongoing and active grand jury investigation."
"It is not the purview, respectfully, of the court to conduct an investigation into uncharged matters," Comey said.
The focus of the hearing, she added, should be to allow Epstein's accusers to be heard "and to bring this case to a close."
However, Epstein's lawyers argued that there was legal precedent for the court to investigate Epstein's death.
And some of the victims' lawyers also suggested that a court-led investigation might be appropriate.
"If there is jurisdiction ... it would increase the confidence" to have the court "oversee the investigation," said Gloria Allred, the high-profile attorney who introduced new alleged victims of Epstein at the hearing.
Epstein, 66, was a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and other celebrities, whom he entertained at his luxurious residences on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Palm Beach, Florida, and on a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Authorities and accusers have said that Epstein sexually abused young girls and women at those properties, and that his misdeeds were abetted by a number of conspirators, none of whom has ever been charged. Berman had refused to release him on bail because of his potential threat to girls if released.
Federal prosecutors in Miami in 2007 reached a nonprosecution deal with Epstein that allowed him to escape potentially serious federal charges in exchange for pleading guilty to less serious state charges related to prostitution, for which he served 13 months in jail.
Weeks before his death, Epstein was found semiconscious in his cell in the Manhattan Correctional Center with marks on his neck. That incident led to him being placed on suicide watch, but he was taken off of that status about a week later.
Epstein's connections, vast wealth and the prior incident in the jail led to a rash of speculation about whether he was killed in his jail cell, and did not commit suicide.
"There are conspiracy theories galore," Weingarten noted Tuesday.
Weingarten also pointed out that "we've heard that" the surveillance video at the jail around Epstein's cell "were either corrupted or not functioning."
Weingarten also said of conditions in the jail: "In a word, they were dreadful." He said there was vermin, standing water and lack of natural light at the facility.
Epstein's other lawyer, Weinberg, called the MCC's conditions "horrific" and "medieval."
The warden of the MCC was transferred out of his post on the heels of Epstein's death, and two guards were placed on leave.
— Kevin Breuninger reported from U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and Dan Mangan reported from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.