Warning: This story contains details that may disturb some readers.
Disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead on Saturday (US time) after an apparent suicide in the New York jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, and a source said he was not on suicide watch at the time of his death.
Epstein, 66, was found unresponsive in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the lower Manhattan jail, said in a statement.
Epstein, who was arrested on July 6, had pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.
Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, according to media reports, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault.
Despite that, Epstein had been taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates deemed in danger of taking their own life, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. He was on suicide watch as late as Thursday, the source said.
The financier was in a cell by himself when his body was found, the source said.
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The FBI and the Department of Justice's Inspector General were opening investigations, US Attorney-General William Barr said, adding that he was "appalled" to learn of his death in federal custody.
"Mr Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered," Barr said in a statement.
At the MCC, two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed overnight, according to the source, who was not authorised to speak on the record.
In addition, every 15 minutes guards are required to make another check on prisoners who are on suicide watch.
Epstein was housed in the Special Housing Unit, even as guards are required to remove prisoners on suicide watch from the unit, according to a Twitter post by Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The SHU separates inmates such as accused sex offenders deemed likely to be harmed by other prisoners from the general population.
Epstein had been confined to the correctional center while he appealed a district judge's refusal to let him live under 24-hour guard in his opulent townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Sex trafficking investigation to continue
After Epstein's arrest, prosecutors said a search of his townhouse, conducted under a warrant, uncovered evidence of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of nude photographs of "what appeared to be underage girls", including some photos catalogued on compact discs and kept in a locked safe.
In a court filing on July 25, the government said it was pursuing an "ongoing investigation of uncharged individuals" in connection with the case against Epstein.
That investigation, in the US Attorney's office in Manhattan, will continue despite Epstein's death, a different source familiar with the matter said.
The well-connected money manager was known for socialising with politicians and royalty. Over the years, he counted now President Donald Trump and former Democratic President Bill Clinton as his friends, and, according to court papers, Britain's Prince Andrew. None of those people was mentioned in the indictment laying out the charges against Epstein.
The charges against Epstein were announced more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state prostitution charges after a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticised as too lenient.
Aja Davis, a spokeswoman for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said she could not say how Epstein died before her office examined the body.
Epstein's death came a day after the unsealing of a court filing in which a woman who accused Epstein of keeping her as a sex slave said one of the financier's associates had instructed her to have sex with at least a half-dozen prominent men.
The claim by Virginia Giuffre came in a deposition that was included in about 2,000 pages of documents related to her defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, the associate whom Giuffre said helped Epstein procure girls for sex.
Lawyers for Maxwell did not respond to several phone and email requests for comment.
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Reuters / Newshub.