A Boston city councilor called Monday for an independent investigation of jailhouse procedures after the apparent suicide of a former medical student awaiting trial in the death of a masseuse he met through Craigslist.
Philip Markoff should not have been able to kill himself while in custody of the Suffolk County sheriff, Councilor Stephen Murphy said. Markoff was discovered dead in his cell Sunday morning, a day after what would have been his first wedding anniversary - if his fiancee hadn't called off the nuptials.
Authorities are withholding the cause of death until the results of specialized tests come in. The Boston Herald, quoting anonymous sources, said the 24-year-old used a pen to cut arteries and covered his head with a plastic bag. The newspaper also reported that he had not been checked all night.
"Regardless of my personal feelings about Philip Markoff, he technically was an inmate awaiting trial, and he was in the care and custody of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office," said Murphy, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee. "He had shown a penchant for doing harm to himself before. You would have thought he would have been under the closest of attention."
Murphy said the Boston Police Department and Suffolk County district attorney should expand their investigation of Markoff's death to examine procedures at the Nashua Street jail and other facilities under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Andrea Cabral.
Cabral rebuffed Murphy, who is running for state treasurer, saying he "persists in talking about things about which he knows nothing." She also called his demand politically motivated, adding: "It's getting your face on camera without having any information or any of the facts."
Inmates at the jail are typically checked every half hour, she said, but would not comment specifically on Markoff's case.
The county books 9,000 to 10,000 inmates annually, she said, and her guards prevent an average of 57 suicides each year. There have been five inmate suicides since 2003, including Markoff's, she said.
Suffolk County recorded an average annual rate of 10 suicides per 100,000 jail inmates between 2000 and 2007, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nationally, the average rate during that same time period was 42 suicides per 100,000 jail inmates, the report said.
As officials debated the merits of an investigation, the family of victim Julissa Brisman bemoaned that justice would never be served.
Markoff's death denies them a long-awaited opportunity to confront him and hear the details of their loved one's final moments, said Djuna Perkins, an attorney for Brisman's mother, Carmen Guzman.
"First he took their daughter from them, then he denied that opportunity for them," she said. "Many people who deal with homicide never get over it, but the criminal trial allows them to confront the suspect, hear the evidence and reach some resolution in the case."
Brisman, a 26-year-old masseuse from New York City, was beaten with a gun and shot three times in the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston in April 2009. Authorities allege Markoff, a former Boston University student, lured her there and botched a robbery to support his gambling habit.
He pleaded not guilty, and also in the armed robbery of a Las Vegas woman at another Boston hotel within four days of Brisman's death. Rhode Island prosecutors also accused him of attacking a stripper that same week.
He had met all three through Craigslist advertisements for erotic services. His trial in the Massachusetts cases had been expected in March.
Perkins did not fault the Sheriff's Office in the death. Markoff had been placed under suicide watch just three days after his arrest after a correction officer noticed marks on his neck indicating he may have attempted to hang himself.
"I think that if you really want to commit suicide, you're going to do it," Perkins said. "He was somebody who had an anatomical knowledge. He was a smart guy. I'm sure he could find plenty of time to think."
This program aired on August 16, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.