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NYC Inmate 'Baked to Death' in Hot Jail Cell: Report

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A New York jail inmate was found dead in his cell in February, with officials citing malfunctioning equipment as to why he was "basically baked to death."

An autopsy performed on Jerome Murdough, 56, was inconclusive but initial findings indicated to officials that the mentally ill ex-Marine died of extreme dehydration or heat stroke, officials told The Associated Press. Murdough was in a cell that reportedly was overheated to at least 100 degrees.

What recourse do prisoners have for overheated cells?

Trespass Arrest Lands Man in Jail

Murdough's story is a rather sad one. The former Marine was homeless, and taking shelter in a Harlem stairwell, when police arrested him for trespassing. According to the AP, a week later, Murdough was found dead in his Rikers Island cell.

It's common in many cities for homeless persons to end up in jail for trespassing (absent creative sentencing), and it's also not uncommon for these inmates to have mental illness. Murdough's mother Alma told the AP her son suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

New York City has been caught trying to unlawfully isolate the mentally ill before, but it appears that in Murdough's case it was fatal. Mental illness advocates point to him not being supervised closely enough in "a special observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses," which may have lead to his death, the AP reports.

According to city officials, Murdough was located in Rikers Island's "mental-observation unit" and was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of "suicide watch."

Potential Liability for Extreme Heat

Lawsuits alleging abysmal conditions behind bars are fairly common. Inmates and prisoners often face issues such as cockroach infestations, questionable medical care, and even lethal heat.

In Southern states like Louisiana and Texas, prison facilities can put inmates at lethal risk of heat stroke -- which may qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. Under the Eighth Amendment, even convicts who are sentenced to death should not be slowly baked to death in their cells.

According to the AP, the family "wants an explanation" for Murdough's death, and that desire may eventually bring them to court.

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