By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge set an April trial date Monday for two jail guards accused of failing to make required checks on Jeffrey Epstein the morning he died.
The trial of guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas can begin April 20, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres said.
The guards after their arrest last week pleaded not guilty to lying on prison records to make it seem as though they had made required checks on the financier before he was found in his cell Aug. 10. New York City’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.
Epstein was awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused teenage girls at his Manhattan mansion and a Florida home.
Federal authorities said in court papers that Noel and Thomas appeared to sleep for two hours, perused the internet and failed to make required checks of cells every 30 minutes during an eight-hour period when Epstein’s cell 15 feet from the guards went unchecked.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski said evidence will include hundreds of hours of jailhouse video recordings.
Lawyers for the guards, who are suspended without pay, said their clients were being blamed for systemic problems that plagued the Metropolitan Correctional Center before Epstein’s death.
Attorney Jason Foy, representing Noel, said the lawyers likely will be seeking information beyond evidence that is turned over to them by prosecutors.
“I believe there are outside circumstances that are driving this prosecution,” he said.
Montel Figgins, a for representing Thomas, said outside court that the guards are scapegoats for many failings in a troubled federal lockup.
“Absolutely,” Figgins said when asked whether “scapegoat” was an appropriate word to use. “Only two people charged? For this to happen, a lot had to fail.”
He asked, for instance, who decided that Epstein’s cellmate should be removed from his cell the day before he died. Prison psychologists had determined that Epstein should not be alone in a cell after he was removed from suicide watch after he was found injured in his cell in July.
“The system had a lot of problems. Supervision, staffing,” Figgins said.
The next pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 30.