Two prison officers who were tasked with guarding the disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on the night he died in his cell are to face trial on 20 April.
Tova Noel and Michael Thomas have pleaded not guilty to lying on jail records to make it seem they had made required checks on the financier before his body was found on 10 August.
New York City’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York a suicide.
Noel and Thomas – who have reportedly turned down the offer of a plea bargain – are suspected of failing to carry out checks on the convicted sex offender and falsely recorded that they had.
Court papers allege the pair appeared to sleep for two hours, looked at the internet and failed to make required checks of cells every 30 minutes in an eight-hour period when Epstein’s cell went unchecked.
The pair were the only correctional officers on duty in his unit the night before his body was found, and they are facing the first criminal charges in connection with his death.
They were working overtime because of staffing shortages when Epstein was found on 10 August, less than a month after he was placed on suicide watch after being found on his cell floor with bruises on his neck.
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The Associated Press reports Epstein was taken off suicide watch about a week before he died, meaning he was less closely monitored, but he was still supposed to be checked every half an hour.
Epstein was due to go on trial accused of sexually abusing teenage girls at the time of his death, the official cause of which was given as suicide by hanging.
It has since been claimed by forensic pathologist Michael Baden, who was hired by Epstein’s brother, that he more likely died from being strangled, with multiple fractures found in his neck.
Several conspiracy theories have been borne out of Epstein’s death, which ended the possibility of a high-profile trial.
Epstein had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls and other young women in New York and Florida, with his alleged crimes dating back to the early 2000s.
Around a decade before the charges were filed, Epstein, 66, evaded a potential life jail sentence after dozens of women accused him of sexual assault.
He avoided federal charges thanks to a plea deal struck by then US attorney Alexander Acosta, who went on to become labour secretary under President Donald Trump.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges on two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor, which saw him registered as a sex offender and handed an 18-month sentence, of which he served 13 months.
Despite his death, prosecutors have vowed to continue investigating any further allegations made against Epstein and to charge anyone who may have helped him.
There have been calls for Prince Andrew to speak to US law officials about his friendship with Epstein following the Duke of York’s interview with BBC Newsnight, during which he denied any knowledge of Epstein’s crimes.
The Duke of York has subsequently said he will step back from public duties.