A homeless veteran reportedly "baked to death" inside a jail cell on Rikers Island. Jerome Murdough's death was attributed to faulty equipment, which heated his cell above 100 degrees. The 56-year-old man's family said he suffered from mental illness, which often caused psychotic episodes and seizures.
Although the official medical examination was inconclusive, officials admit the man "basically baked to death." Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the officials said Murdough's medication could have made him more sensitive to excessive heat.
As reported by Associated Press, witnesses said the man appeared to have died from "extreme dehydration or heat stroke." Although a small vent located inside the cell was designed to provide cooler air, it was found in the closed position. It appears that the inmate was not aware of or did not know how to operate the vent.
Department of Correction spokesman Robin Campbell admitted that the homeless veteran's cell was unusually warm. Although a maintenance crew attempted to address the issue, it was simply too late. Campbell said the incident is currently under investigation. Corrections officials are currently investigating Jerome Murdough's death, "including issues of staff performance and the adequacy of procedures.
A veteran Marine, Murdough served in Okinawa, Japan. According to his family, the homeless veteran struggled with mental illness and alcoholism for years. Alma Murdough said her son "was a very lovely, caring guy." Although he often vanished for months at a time, "he was a very nice guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back."
Alma said her son had been missing for months, which was not unusual. He often wandered away from home, spending time in shelters and on the street. However, he always managed to find his way home. Alma was not notified about her son's death until a month after it occurred.
The homeless veteran had a long criminal history. However, a majority of the charges were minor misdemeanors, including drinking in public and trespassing.
Last month, Jerome Murdough sought shelter in the stairwell of a low-income housing project. He was subsequently arrested for trespassing. One week later he was found dead in his cell.
Although he was housed in the mental-health unit, Murdough was not discovered until four hours after his death. According to protocol, inmates in the special unit are supposed to be checked every 15 minutes. It is unclear why the guards failed to follow protocol.
When the inmate was discovered, witnesses said the temperature of the man's body and inside the cell exceeded 100 degrees. Jerome Murdough's family wants to know why he died. Sister Wanda Mehala said her brother was more than "just some old homeless" veteran. She said "he was loved... he had a life... he had a family... he had feelings."