Odds are good that we will never know exactly what happened with Jeffrey Epstein’s death. America’s Orwellian prison system is overwhelmingly punitive and secretive, and no matter what the truth is, its overseers have incentive to bury their failure to keep the most high-profile prisoner in America alive. As of right now, no one can say with any certainty what truly transpired.
So instead of writing a piece trying to address this while winking at what a lot of people believe as I hedge with words like “likely” or “credibly” or “surely,” let’s try to drill down on the accuracy of these beliefs and actually quantify it.
Betting odds are the best way to provide a quick and simple explanation for uncertain events. For example, my beloved Denver Broncos are highly unlikely to win the Super Bowl, but Vegas still says they have a shot at 5000 to 1 odds (meaning that if we were to simulate the NFL season 5,000 times from here on out, the Broncos would win the Super Bowl once). Those are incredibly long odds, especially when compared to the favorites (the Patriots), who are about 3 to 1 to win the Super Bowl. In short, while it is highly unlikely that the Broncos could win the Super Bowl, it is still theoretically possible despite much more certain outcomes like the Patriots winning it. This is the mindset we need to adopt in order to ascertain the likelihood of a conspiracy around Jeffrey Epstein’s death.
First, let’s present the most convincing evidence we all have; that way we can get a more accurate sense of what the number should be.
It’s highly unlikely any of this happens without The Miami Herald recently digging into Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal in 2008, offered to him by former Trump cabinet member and U.S. Florida District Attorney at the time, Alexander Acosta. Anyone putting their Very Serious Pundit hat on and chiding the notion that a conspiracy could exist are ignoring the fact that we know a conspiracy did exist. In fact, during Acosta’s transition meetings with the Trump administration, The Daily Beast said he reportedly told transition officials that he just had one meeting on the case back in 2008 and had been told to “back off” because “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone.”
Michael Baden is perhaps the country’s most high-profile coroner. His credibility does not reach the level of his celebrity (it’s too much to get into here, but the tl;dr can basically be summed up by the fact that he was a regular on a midnight Fox News show for years—he’s credible enough—but keep your guard up), but he was New York City’s chief medical examiner from 1978 to 1979 and served as the chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ Forensic Pathology that investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He has seen quite a lot in his five decades around some of the biggest autopsies America has to offer. Baden was hired by Epstein’s brother, meaning that this is the only non-governmental source we have on the record who actually saw Jeffrey Epstein after his death, and here’s what the forensic pathologist said to Fox News:
”Those three fractures are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation. I’ve not seen in 50 years where that occurred in a suicidal hanging case.”
This is what finally precipitated this column. I have effectively written this piece already in chats and texts with friends, but doing it in public requires a certain level of certainty. I achieved that level of certitude with yesterday’s new developments. Per NBC News:
Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, who were on duty the night before Epstein was found dead by suicide Aug. 10, have been indicted by a grand jury with six counts tied to falsifying prison records.
Thomas and Noel pleaded not guilty and will be released on a $100,000 bond.
The allegations are that Thomas and Noel sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around a common area of the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center, but never conducted any rounds that night.
The central problem with all “Epstein didn’t kill himself” conspiracies is that it is hard to avoid the likeliest rationale: the brutal indifference we have to the suffering we impose upon those we lock in cages. “Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity” should be our north star in assessing situations where we do not have all the information, and short of an admission by Epstein’s supposed murderer, the odds of “that’s just how America’s prisons are” are always going to be lower than “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
That said, the circumstances surrounding his death have officially risen to the level of criminality. The defendants have pleaded not guilty, which means we cannot take the government’s assertion of what happened as gospel. If Epstein was murdered, the cover-up would require a fall guy(s), and “two guys who didn’t want to do their job, and then shit happened” is a perfectly reasonable explanation for events that also has the benefit of being something most Americans can personally relate to. Regardless of whatever the actual story is around Epstein’s death, the government is acknowledging that it is quite problematic with these criminal charges.
In the indictment of these two guards, the government claims to be in possession of video evidence showing that not a single soul even approached Epstein’s cell, let alone entered it, in the eight hours preceding his death. If this video does prove what the government says it proves, then it rockets the “Epstein was murdered” odds well-above those of my hopeless Broncos.
I have one explanation for why no one may have approached Epstein’s cell in the hours leading up to his alleged suicide. Per NBC News again from August:
Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire financier who died by suicide while in federal jail on sex-trafficking charges, had been taken off suicide watch by a doctoral-level psychologist, the Justice Department said in a letter to Congress.
The reason that Epstein was on suicide watch was because almost immediately after being jailed in July, he was found semi-conscious in his cell with marks on his neck. A month after what seemed to be a suicide attempt, our government decided that a guy who a former U.S. Attorney reportedly was told “belonged to intelligence” be taken off suicide watch. This move stunned experts because he was the exact type of inmate who should have been under the closest possible supervision. Even if the video proves no one approached Epstein’s cell prior to his death, that does not prove he was not murdered. Again, thinking about this in terms of assigning odds: it is possible that Epstein did kill himself, but was coerced into doing it.
My credibility in assigning these odds comes from my years of degenerate gambling and my role as a politics knower for Paste. I think adhering to Super Bowl odds is a good way to both get in the ballpark of this difficult answer and to communicate it in a broadly understandable manner. Because we don’t have all the facts and the ones that we do possess are contradictory, that creates a (*Donald Rumsfeld voice*) wide range of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns—plus the government has already lied to us once on this case—so I don’t think we can make any explanation a negative odds betting favorite. Essentially, all we need to do is pick an NFL team who’s case to be Super Bowl champions most closely resembles the case that Epstein was murdered.
So firstly, the notion that Epstein was murdered is credible enough to be floated. It just is. Between his proven ties to literally the most powerful people on Earth, his past sweetheart deal and subsequent government cover-up, to the multiple astonishing breaches of standard protocol at every single level surrounding his captivity, something stinks. Any journalist worth their salt has their BS detector go off looking at this case. Toss in the fact that we have a Daily Beast report confident enough to directly quote a former U.S. attorney saying that this immensely high-profile pedophile who spends time with billionaires, presidents and princes was an intelligence asset, and we have most of an explanation for how a conspiracy like this could have come about.
Essentially, the conspiracy I just presented using publicly available information is that the powers that be (“intelligence”) could have used Epstein to further their ends, while some like Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew got caught up in Epstein’s pedophilia, and once this escalated and got out of “intelligence’s” control (and shortly after many high-profile figures like Prince Andrew were named in Epstein’s court documents), they exercised their powers to isolate Epstein in his cell and communicated that he should do the job himself, or else. It’s also possible that the DOJ is lying about the video, and the marks on Epstein’s neck suggesting strangulation are more than a suggestion. It’s also still most possible that simple negligence is to explain all of this. Which brings me to my answer.
The idea that Epstein was murdered, either by force or suicidal coercion, rests somewhere between the Green Bay Packers odds (12 to 1) and that of the Philadelphia Eagles (50 to 1). Gun to my conspiratorial head, I say that it’s closer to Green Bay than Philly’s odds (and the Aaron Rodgers of this analogy is the correctional powers that be taking Epstein off suicide watch after an attempted suicide—going against the wisdom of every available expert—so let’s call it 15 to 1), but a secondary or tertiary NFC contender is the closest NFL comparison for “Epstein was murdered.”
“Welcome to America’s penal system” is the New Orleans Saints (5 to 1) and San Francisco 49ers (7 to 1) of this exercise. Philly and Green Bay have good to OK cases to be made for winning the Super Bowl this year, but given the current limitations of both teams and their narrower path to a title at this point, it is difficult to see how their cases are more convincing than the team we knew was a juggernaut coming into the year and the team who has proven themselves to be a juggernaut. Unfortunately, our known barbarity is the best argument against the depravity behind the “Epstein was murdered” charge.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.