Dr. Michael Baden, the noted forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner for New York City, recently appeared on Fox and Friends to discuss the death of alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. At the request of the decedent’s brother, Baden observed Epstein’s autopsy and is investigating the circumstances under which the accused died while in federal custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
As both a prosecutor and private practitioner, I have worked death cases with Dr. Baden and found his extensive knowledge, professional experience, and outstanding analytical abilities to be invaluable. While I have worked with other well-qualified forensic pathologists, Baden is, in my estimation, the best of his profession. He has performed over 20,000 autopsies; served as director of the Forensic Investigation Center of the New York State Police; was chairman of the Forensic Pathology Panel of Congress’ Select Committee on Assassinations, which reinvestigated the deaths of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; and has held scores of similar professional, teaching, and governmental appointments.
Moreover, when it comes to investigating prison inmate deaths, he has unequaled medico-legal expertise, as evidenced by his 17-page curriculum vitae, which includes entries for his four-year stint as the special forensic pathology consultant to the task force that investigated the Attica Prison riot deaths and his five decades on the New York State Correction Medical Review Board, which investigates deaths in the state’s correctional facilities.
Until his television appearance, Baden had made no public comment regarding the conclusory announcement by Barbara Sampson, New York City’s current chief medical examiner, that Epstein’s cause of death was “hanging” and manner of death was “suicide.” But since issuing that statement two months ago, the medical examiner’s office has not published its investigative report. Consequently, in an effort to prod officials to release their findings, Epstein’s brother authorized Baden to appear on Fox to question the medical examiner’s conclusions.
In his televised remarks, Baden stated that, rather than hanging, the findings at autopsy were more consistent with “ligature homicidal strangulation.” As described by Baden, Epstein was “allegedly found hanging by a homemade ligature of sheets.” But autopsy disclosed three fractures of the thyroid cartilage and the hyoid bone (a horseshoe-shaped bone in the anterior midline of the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage). According to Baden, such fractures “are very unusual for suicide and are more indicative of homicidal strangulation.”
He also noted that the assistant medical examiner who did the autopsy “didn’t think that there was enough information to say it was suicide.” So at the time of the autopsy, the assistant medical examiner put the manner of death as “pending further study.” But, Baden stated, a week later that was changed from “pending further study” to “suicide,” and Epstein’s family wants to know why.
When asked by one of the Fox hosts if there were any signs that Epstein had fought back (a very good question), Baden didn’t answer directly. Instead he replied that fingernail clippings had been taken “to see if anyone else’s DNA was present.” But, once again, that information hasn’t been released by the authorities.
He also observed that “the ligature is made out of torn strips of orange sheets, and whoever made it had to put a lot of DNA on it.” Nevertheless, no information has been released “regarding whose DNA was on the ligature.” Since this death occurred in a federal facility, Baden wants to know if the FBI took possession of the ligature. If so, since “it only takes a couple of days to do the DNA, what’s the result?”
As for the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, Baden found the breakdown in security to be “highly unusual.” Epstein was not checked on by anyone from 3:30 to 6:30 in the morning. At the same time two guards were allegedly asleep, a situation that Baden has never seen in over 50 years of investigating prison deaths, and which he considers to be “extremely unlikely.” He also questioned why all of the security cameras around Epstein’s cell were inoperative.
Baden also found it “strange” that federal authorities have not contacted him since “everybody involved in the autopsy should have been consulted.”
Baden concluded by saying that all of the foregoing “doesn’t mean that this was homicide. But certainly it deserves investigation, and Epstein’s brother is concerned that there is no investigation.”
Just so. In his customarily careful, thorough, and analytical manner, Baden has raised critical questions regarding the Epstein investigation that require answers. Too many powerful people stood to benefit from Epstein’s death. While Epstein may have committed suicide, there appear to be far too many material loose ends to reach that conclusion.
Thanks to the incomparable Dr. Michael Baden, the authorities have been provided with a comprehensive investigative road map. The critical issue now is whether they will follow it and make public their findings.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer and blogs at knowledgeisgood.net. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.