Jeffrey Epstein death: Trial set for guards accused of skipping jail checks before sex offender's suicide

Key Points
  • Two Manhattan federal jail guards accused of trying to cover up their failure to check on Jeffrey Epstein in the hours before his suicide are scheduled to go on trial April 20.
  • Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Trump and Clinton, was awaiting trial for child sex trafficking charges at the time of his death in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
  • Prince Andrew has stepped back from public duties because of a disastrous interview about his friendship with Epstein.
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services | Handout | Reuters

Two Manhattan federal jail guards accused of trying to cover up their failure to check on accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in the hours before his suicide are now scheduled to go on trial April 20.

The trial of Tova Noel and Michael Thomas was set during a hearing Monday at which federal prosecutors said they have obtained "hundreds of hours of video" from the Metropolitan Correctional Center of the night before the wealthy investor Epstein was found Aug. 10 unresponsive in his cell with a noose around his neck.

Prosecutors previously said some of the video does not show anyone approaching Epstein's cell after he was last seen entering it on the night of Aug. 9.

Noel and Thomas were charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with conspiracy and falsifying official records.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office has said the guards appeared to have slept, surfed the internet, moved around a common area and sat at their desk instead of doing mandated inmate head counts and regular rounds in the special protective unit of the jail, where Epstein was being held awaiting trial.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers said Monday they expect the guards' trial to last one week.

The defendants, who are free on bail, are scheduled to return to court Jan. 30 for a pretrial conference.

The New York City medical examiner's office ruled Epstein's death a suicide by hanging.

But Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist hired by Epstein's brother, has said the injuries found on Epstein's neck were more consistent in cases of homicide than in suicide.

The death remains under investigation by several federal agencies.

Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, as well as of Britain's Prince Andrew, was a registered sex offender at the time of his death, which occurred weeks after he was found semiconscious with marks on his neck in his cell in an apparent initial suicide attempt.

NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

He pleaded guilty in 2008 to state criminal charges in Florida, which included paying for sexual services from an underage girl. He served 13 months in jail for that case, but spent much of that time free on work release.

Epstein was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges in July, six months after The Miami Herald published articles detailing how he obtained a nonprosecution agreement from the Miami U.S. Attorney's Office in 2007.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan claimed Epstein had sexually abused dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005 at his luxurious homes on the Upper East Side and in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump's first Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, resigned within days of Epstein's arrest because of renewed focus on his role, as Miami's top federal prosecutor, in negotiating the sweetheart nonprosecution deal with Epstein in 2007.

Prosecutors are continuing to investigate people who may have helped Epstein acquire a steady stream of girls and women to satisfy his compulsive sexual obsessions.

Prince Andrew last week withdrew from public duties, had his office evicted from Buckingham Palace and had his 60th birthday party canceled on the heels of a disastrous interview he gave the BBC about his past friendship with Epstein.

Andrew denied in the interview that he had had sex with one of Epstein's accusers, Virginia Giuffre, as she has claimed. The Duke of York was widely mocked for dismissing her account of him "sweating" on her on a London dance floor by claiming he was medically incapable of sweating due to the physical effect of having been shot at during the Falkland Islands War.

Andrew also was criticized for having said that Epstein behaved in an "unbecoming" manner with girls and women, and justifying his decision to spend four nights at Epstein's New York mansion — on a 2010 trip whose ostensible purpose was to end their friendship — because it was "a convenient place to stay."