Official: US inmate 'baked to death' in cell

2014-03-19 22:03
(Picture: Supplied)

(Picture: Supplied)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

New York - A mentally ill homeless veteran who died behind bars last month "basically baked to death" in a jail cell that overheated to more than 37°C, a New York City official tells The Associated Press.

Fifty-six-year-old Jerome Murdough, a former US Marine, had been charged with trespassing and placed in an observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses at Rikers Island.

Four city officials say Murdough, who took anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, apparently did not open a small vent to let cool air into his cell, as other inmates did. Officials also said he was not checked for hours, in violation of department protocol.

The officials said the medication may have made him more vulnerable to heat.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the investigation by the city's department of correction.

The medical examiner's office said a post mortem was inconclusive and that more tests were needed to determine Murdough's exact cause of death.

But the officials, all with detailed knowledge of the case, say initial indications from the autopsy and investigation point to extreme dehydration or heat stroke.

Advocates for mentally ill inmates in New York say the death represents the failure of the city's justice system on almost every level: by arresting Murdough instead of finding him help, by setting bail at a prohibitive $2 500 and by not supervising him closely in what is supposed to be a special observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses.

Of the 12 000 inmates who make up the nation's second-largest jail system, about 40% are mentally ill, and a third of them suffer from serious mental problems, the department of correction said.

Advocates and others have long argued that correction officers are not sufficiently trained to deal with mentally ill inmates whose needs are complex.

According to the city officials, Murdough was locked alone into his cinderblock cell at about 22:30 on 14 February, a week after his arrest. Because he was in the mental-observation unit, he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of suicide watch, they said.

But Murdough was not discovered until four hours later, at about 02:30 on 15 February. He was slumped over in his bed and already dead.

Dr Susi Vassallo, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine and a national expert on heat-related deaths who monitors heat conditions at Rikers Island, said psychotropic medications can impair the body's ability to cool itself by sweating, making it retain more heat than it should.

Exposure to intense heat for a couple of hours by someone on such medications could be fatal, she said.

Jennifer J Parish, an attorney at the New York-based Urban Justice Centre's Mental Health Project, said Murdough appeared to be a man in need of care.

"So Mr Murdough violated the trespass law. So he suffered the consequences by going to jail," Parish said. "But the jail system committed more serious harm to him. And the question is, 'Will they ever be held responsible?'"

Read more on:    us

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Millions of plastic particles in our food!

Scientists and researchers believe that almost five million tons of plastic is dumped in the oceans every year and it’s affecting our food.



Plastic on your plate
Prince George the green prince?
Lean, green, drifiting machine
One man's $1 million vision for an eco Africa

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

It may be hard to maintain a steady rhythm as you find yourself juggling a zillion things. Slow down a little and let go of more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.