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A federal judge on Thursday dismissed the pending criminal child sex trafficking case against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who authorities have said killed himself in a Manhattan jail earlier this month.
The dismissal by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman of both counts against Epstein in response to a request by prosecutors was a formality, given the death of the former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
But it came two days after Epstein's defense lawyers urged the judge to conduct an inquiry into Epstein's death after casting doubt on the finding by the New York City medical examiner's office that he died from suicide by hanging himself in his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
One of Epstein's lawyers, Martin Weinberg, in a statement to CNBC said: "We do not interpret today's ruling as a determination that Judge Berman has rejected our requests that he exercise his inherent judicial authority to investigate both the cause of Mr. Epstein's death or the horrific conditions in which the MCC held our client while he was pending trial."
Prosecutors had opposed the idea of Berman doing an inquiry of his own into Epstein's death. They noted that the incident is already the focus of a federal grand jury probe, as well as being under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Justice Department.
Another Epstein lawyer, Reid Weingarten, on Tuesday told Berman that the injuries suffered by Epstein are "far more consistent with assault than suicide." Weingarten cited the defense's own medical experts.
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.
"We want the court to help us find out what happened," Weingarten said at Tuesday's hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where nearly two dozen women spoke or had statements read about being abused by Epstein and their dismay that he died before he could be brought to trial.
"We're skeptical of the certitude" of the finding of suicide by hanging by the medical examiner, he said. There are "significant doubts" regarding "the conclusion of suicide," Weingarten said.
Epstein, 66, had been held without bail in the MCC since his arrest in early July.
He had pleaded not guilty in the case, where he faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
An indictment accused Epstein of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005 at his luxurious properties on Manhattan's Upper East Side and in Palm Beach, Florida. Some of the alleged victims were as young as 14 years old.
Prosecutors said Epstein was aided by co-conspirators who provided him with access to the girls, who were paid several hundred dollars after visiting Epstein for purported "massages."
Less than a month before he died, Epstein had been placed on suicide watch at the MCC for nearly a week after he was found semiconscious, with marks on his neck, in his cell.
Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, met with some of Epstein's accusers and their lawyers on Tuesday after the hearing.
During that meeting, Berman and William Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York Field Office, thanked the victims for their bravery and noted that their offices are continuing to investigate Epstein's possible co-conspirators, NBC News reported Wednesday.
Berman previously had said, on the heels of Epstein's death, "To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the Indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing."