Former Marine “Baked to Death” in Rikers Island Jail Cell
Jerome Murdough, a 56-year-old former U.S. Marine was arrested last month in New York City for trespassing. He was looking for a warm place to sleep at a public housing development. He was incarcerated at Rikers Island on a $2,500 bail. On February 14th he was found dead in his jail cell. The cell was overheated to 100 degrees or more due to faulty heating equipment.
Mr. Murdough was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication which made him more susceptible to dehydration and heat stroke. He had been placed on suicide watch and the correctional officers were supposed to check him every 15 minutes. An anonymous official stated, “He was basically baked to death.”
“It’s pretty absurd on its face that an individual can die from excessive heat in a jail where people are supposed to be under post surveillance, I mean people don’t die in a matter of minutes from excessive heat, it takes a while,” stated John Boston, director of Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. According to experts on heat related deaths, psychotropic medications impairs the body’s ability to cool itself by sweating. After several hours, exposure to such intense heat can cause death.
Alma Murdough, James Murdough’s mother, stated that the she only learned of her son’s death from the Associated Press last week. Mr. Murdough’s public defender was notified three days after this tragic death, according to the New York Department of Corrections.
James Murdough’s record revealed that his prior convictions were for minor misdemeanors such as drinking in public and trespassing. He had a long history of mental illness. James Murdough should not have been incarcerated for this minor charge, but should have received care at a psychiatric center. Of the 12,000 inmates who make up the nation’s second-largest jail system, about 40 percent are mentally ill, and a third of them suffer from serious mental problems.
The treatment of James Murdough is further proof of the indifference of many of our prison systems to the welfare of their inmates. While this former Marine was dying over several hours or more–What were the correctional officers doing? This callous attitude toward inmates can be found in other states. In Texas, 13 inmates have died from heat related deaths during the last five years. The inmate’s body temperatures ranged from 106 degrees to 109 degrees. “I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells,” said the corrections supervisor for one of the Texas prisons.
History of mental illness and was in jail on trespassing charges — Why was he in jail, let alone in solitary?!
Just goes to show u how we really appreciate, honor and respect for people who have served and protected our country and freedom,, This is a disgrace someone should be responsible for this..By Mary
I recently learned of an inmate who sent a letter beginning, “By the time you read this, I’ll be dead,” was on 15-minute checks, and had previously attempted suicide by overdose of hoarded medication. Despite the prison’s routine screening (reading) of mail and the 15-minute checks, he laid unconscious on the floor of his cell for over 2 1/2 hours. He was yelled at for “refusing” to come get his tray for breakfast, and shouted at again for not getting up when the counselor brought his mail. Finally, an officer realized he was in exactly the same position since breakfast.… Read more »
I agree completely with you. It can only change with the prison administration.
Tragedy on multiple levels. The fact that in the 21st century this guy was looking for somewhere warm to sleep, was imprisoned for trespassing bearing in mind that our natural human response when we our cold is to seek a place or warmth and this overrides our ability to adopt ‘rational’ thinking strategies, was not then diverted from the CJS into the mental health system, and he was then treated inhumanly by the prison staff is both disgusting and criminal in itself. As a nation the US should be appalled at itself, is this how you repay the honourable men… Read more »
And who will be held accountable?
It is outrageous that a man can die in these circumstances. Making sure it can’t happen again must surely be the priority.
SHAME! A copy of the death certificate should be posted.
[…] we consider this tragedy an isolated prison event? In March, PrisonPath posted an article about a former marine baked to death in a Riker’s cell. In that case, the inmate, Mr. Murdough, had mental health issues and was […]