Jeffrey Epstein’s final days: Secret phone calls and last-minute will changes

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Less than 48 hours before being found dead in prison, Jeffrey Epstein met with his lawyers to sign a new version of his last will and testament. 

The disgraced financier had been under psychological observation from a previous episode in which he was found hanging in his prison cell, but the provocative step of signing a new will went unnoticed by prison officials until after Epstein’s death.

That lapse was one of many missteps and missed opportunities to stop Epstein from killing himself sometime in the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 2019, contained in an official report released Tuesday by the Department of Justice’s internal, investigative watchdog.

The report stands by the initial determination that Epstein’s death was the result of suicide as there were no signs of foul play or that anyone had been anywhere near his cell after he was last seen alive by prison guards the night before.

But the report also lays out in detail Epstein’s final days, including a number of curious steps he took in that time and a series of serious protocol breaches made by prison staff that would contribute to him being left unwatched long enough to kill himself.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 of that year on federal sex-trafficking charges. He was ordered held without bail and eventually placed in the special housing unit of the Manhattan Correctional Center in New York while he awaited trial. There, inmates were kept in their cells for 23 hours a day, although Epstein spent much of his time meeting with his attorneys, the report said.

From the beginning, Epstein had a cellmate. On the night of July 23, the cellmate began banging on the cell door and screaming for the guards. When officers arrived, they found Epstein hanging from the bunk bed ladder with an orange piece of cloth wrapped around his neck.

The officers pulled Epstein down and managed to resuscitate him. When he later came to, he initially said he thought his cellmate had tried to kill him, but later said he could not recall what had happened. An investigation could not definitively conclude what had happened, the DOJ report said.

Following the episode, Epstein was placed on suicide watch — in which he was continuously monitored by staff. When prison psychologists later determined that Epstein was no longer a risk to himself, they downgraded his status to “psychological observation,” meaning he could be returned to a cell and not be kept under continual watch. 

Curiously, Epstein said he wanted his original cellmate back. When prison officials said they weren’t sure that was such a good idea, Epstein replied: “Yeah, but I don’t understand, you know, we were bunkies, everything was cool,” the report quoted him as saying.

On July 30, prison staff were informed that Epstein needed to be assigned an “appropriate cellmate,” and he was housed with another inmate in a cell just 15 feet away from the guard station. That inmate later reported that Epstein was allowed to sleep on a mattress on the floor and was given an extra blanket, in violation of prison rules.

On August 8, Epstein signed the new will. The following morning, Epstein’s cellmate was transferred out of the prison, leaving Epstein alone. 

Later that day, more than 2,000 pages of documents were publicly released as part of court proceedings against Epstein’s long-time companion, Ghislaine Maxwell. The documents included extensive information that was damaging to Epstein.

Maxwell was found guilty in 2021 of conspiring with Epstein to sexually abuse minors and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

That evening, after meeting with his lawyers, Epstein  was allowed to place an unmonitored phone call. The report said that while Epstein claimed he was calling his mother, he actually phoned “someone with whom he allegedly has a personal relationship,” the report stated.

Epstein was last seen alive in his cell at 10:40 p.m. and was discovered dead by prison staff at 6:30 a.m. the following morning. He was once again found hanging from the upper bunk with a cord tied around his neck.

According to the report, prison officials discovered extra sheets and bedding in the cell. An investigation revealed that the prison guards on duty that night, failed to conduct rounds of the cell block and check on Epstein every 30 minutes like they were supposed to, meaning Epstein was unwatched for nearly eight hours.

The guards were later charged with falsifying records to show that they had done the required rounds while they were actually sleeping and surfing the internet. The two guards later reached deferred prosecution agreements with the federal prosecutors, in which charges against them were dropped after they performed community service and kept out of trouble for six months.  

Some of the prison cameras in the cell block also had been malfunctioning for weeks so that while they provided a live feed of the area, they failed to record. A nearby camera that was fully operational showed no one entering the area after the guards last locked Epstein in his cell at 10:40 p.m. the night before he was found dead, the report said.

An autopsy showed no signs of foul play or that Epstein had struggled with anyone prior to his death. Officials say they believe he had hanged himself.

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