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Investigators are trying to figure out how Jerome Murdough, a homeless New York City veteran, died in his cell on Rikers Island. Malfunctioning equipment had apparently caused his cell to reach 100 degrees, leading to his death last month.
Acting Department of Correction Commissioner Mark Cranston told the Associated Press that the conditions that lead to Murdough’s “unfortunate death” are currently being investigated.
“While we cannot comment on the facts surrounding his death while the investigation is underway, preliminary information suggests there were unusually high temperatures in Mr. Murdough's cell,” Cranston explained.
Murdough, 56, was arrested early last month on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after he was found sleeping on the roof of a Harlem public housing building. Since he couldn’t post the $2,500 bail, he was put in a cell. He was put in a unit specifically for inmates with mental illness and was found dead on Feb. 15.
Officials told the AP that his initial autopsy results showed that he died of extreme dehydration or heat stroke. Other officials said that he was taking medication that may have made extreme heat more dangerous for him. He also didn’t open a small vent that would have let cool air into his cell.
“He basically baked to death,” one official told the AP under anonymity.
Nearby cells were also over 80 degrees and “maintenance staff addressed the issue immediately,” officials said, reports Pix11.
Alma Murdough, Murdogh’s 75-year-old mother, told the AP that she hadn’t even heard of her son’s death until the AP called her to ask about him. “He had beer problems. Drinking beer. That was his downfall,” she said. “Other than that, he was a very nice guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back.”
According to the New York Times, the tragedy was reported on just after Mayor Bill de Blasio named Joseph Ponte the new Commissioner of Correction. Ponte previously worked in Maine, where he became well known for cutting solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates.