Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Boston’s Sherriff’s Department Defends Against Blame And Investigates The Death Of Alleged Murderer Markoff

The news to which we have referred a couple of times this week has remained in the news all week. Namely, Phillip Markoff, the alleged Craigslist Killer, apparently took his own life at the Nashua Street Jail in Boston. His attorney has expressed surprise and sadness and the local D.A. has proclaimed it to be consciousness of guilt.

Typical, right?

Well, there is an existing irony. When Markoff was arrested for his alleged crimes, our law enforcement leaders and politicians (both in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to name a few) seemed to proclaim the killing to be the fault of Craigslist and the professionals involved in the occupation of prostitution.

It was almost as if Mr. Markoff was secondary in the whole robbery and murder events.

Well, now that he has apparently committed suicide, people seem to, once again, be laying the blame for his actions on someone else.

This time, it is the fault of Nashua Street Jail.

According to Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, correctional officers at the jail last inspected the cell of Markoff in June, two months before he used a primitive scalpel fashioned out of a pen and a piece of metal to kill himself
This was said at a press conference held yesterday in which Cabral confronted accusations seeking to lay the blame for the death at the jail’s doorstep.

Cabral defended jail policies and procedures, maintaining that Markoff had access to the same safety pens used by other inmates and other jails. However, she explained that inmates find ways to manipulate paper, hard plastic, even candy to create their own instrument. Any contraband is confiscated immediately, Cabral said. She did not say whether any contraband was found during the June inspection of Markoff’s cell.

“Not everything can be permanently fixed to a solid structure,” Cabral said. “There are things in every correctional facility that can be broken off or removed.”

In fact, there have been many stories in which seemingly harmless items, such as a bar of soap, are made into weapons.

An autopsy Monday determined that the 24-year-old former Boston University School of Medicine student cut several major blood vessels, including the carotid artery, as he inflicted puncture wounds and lacerations on his neck, arms, wrists, and ankles.

Cabral, who says the matter is being investigated, also said she would look into the release of photos of Markoff’s cell after his death that show the words “Megan,” and “Pocket,” which he scribbled in his own blood. Megan is the name of his former fiancée, Megan McAllister. The suicide occurred a day after what would have been their first anniversary.

“Those pictures were not disseminated by this department, and the dissemination of those pictures is in my view despicable,” she said. Other investigators outside her department had access to the cell, she said.

The sheriff would not comment directly on Markoff’s death, but instead outlined general practices that are in place at the jail.

Cabral said that the suicide rate at the Boston jail, which houses 10,000 detainees a year, falls far below the national average.

The suicide occurred some time between 1:59 a.m., when Markoff was observed turning off the light, and 10:06 a.m., when a correction officer entered the cell and found him unresponsive.

Cabral said that during routine, half-hour checks of cells, a correctional officer would be asked to look for signs that an inmate was responsive. If a person is under a blanket, as Markoff was, the officer would “look for respiration, look for movement, something that is going to be visible to them,” she said.

She also said that, “If we had someone who was at risk of committing suicide, or was on a suicide watch, we would generally be in more tune to those.”

Attorney Sam’s Take:

I have had dealings with various jails and state prisons throughout Massachusetts and New York for around one quarter of a century.

Believe me, particularly as a defense attorney, I have my share of complaints…which, perhaps, is a good subject for a Friday Attorney Sam’s Take posting. Today’s blog, however, is about this particular story and what it means to you.

“Speaking of which, Sam, why is everyone talking about this? Doesn’t a prisoner lose his rights when he is in jail anyway?”

A prisoner loses many of his or her rights while incarcerated. There are levels, however, as well as a level under which the system may not go in denying such rights.

Laws regarding the treatment of prisoners are many. It also depends to some extent on whether the person has been convicted and sentences or whether the person, like Markoff, is simply awaiting trial. In any event, a prisoner is not to be subject to what we call “cruel and unusual punishment”.

The difficulty at such obligatory Massachusetts housing institutions is balancing a prisoner’s rights with the duty of the institute to pay attention to security matters. Some such institutions, like MCI-Shirley, have been in the news not so long ago for melees a violent activity inside the prison.

While I certainly have my criticism, not that you asked, I cannot say that I find much wrong with what Ms. Cabral indicated during the press conference. It is the jail’s responsibility to do whatever is possible (balancing a prisoner’s rights against security measures) to keep an inmate safe from others and themselves. This does not, however, make the impossible possible.

An inmate like Markoff is intelligent and medically trained. And, I might add, perhaps a bit off balance to begin with. It is not always possible to prevent a suicide like this.

The irony here, as mentioned earlier, is that Markoff leaves the system the same way he went in…secondary in the line of persons responsible for his own deeds.

Does that seem odd to you?

Meanwhile, of course, the best approach would be to never be in the situation to begin with! If you are being investigated for a crime, or are actually charged, you want to make sure that every potential benefit is given to you to keep you out of incarceration. While no one can promise any such result, your best bet is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you are interested in discussing such a case with me, feel free to make an appointment for a free initial consultation by calling 617-492-3000.

To view the original story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/08/cabral_defends.html?p1=News_links

Contact Information