Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral said today that Philip Markoff had been off suicide watch since May 14, 2009, and that she was unaware of any signs that he would attempt to kill himself.
She would not release any details about how Markoff killed himself, what condition he was in when jail officials found him, or when the last time was that they had seen him alive.
However, she said, "I don't believe that he had anything that he shouldn't have had in his cell... I can tell you generally inmates don't sit naked in their cells with nothing to read and no clothes on.''
She said inmates, like Markoff, who are not on suicide watch are allowed to have safety razors, pens, and clear plastic bags, which they get when they make purchases from the prison canteen.
Markoff was scheduled to go on trial in March for allegedly killing Julissa Brisman in April 2009 at a luxurious Back Bay hotel, a woman he had allegedly met through the Craigslist website.
In a telephone interview today, Cabral would not say when Markoff was last spotted alive, she said officers routinely check on inmates every half hour.
"I know that the rounds are to be made every 30 minutes,'' Cabral said. "The purpose is to look in and make sure the person is visible to you and to look and make sure there is nothing calling attention to that person.''
Cabral said she is currently conducting an investigation, but based on what she knows at the moment she believes her staff did everything they were supposed to do in handling Markoff.
She added, "It's a big caveat because I haven't looked at all the documentation.''
"What I do know about suicide is that while I'm gladdened that we have so few, people who are determined to do this, do it and find a way to do it," Cabral said. "That's something that I also don't think should be lost.''
Cabral said nearly 10,000 pre-trial detainees are booked into the Nashua Street Jail every year and that the average number of serious attempted suicides is 57.8 a year.
She said there have been five suicides at the Nashua Street Jail in the past eight years, including one in 2003, one in 2004, two last year and just Markoff's this year. At the same time, she said there were 71 serious suicide attempts in 2003, 51 in 2004, and 51 last year.
Cabral said she would not release details of Markoff's apparent suicide until the investigation is complete because she doesn't want to compromise the ongoing probe.
Despite the high-profile nature of his case that has attracted intense media attention, Cabral said Markoff was not treated any differently than the other detainees being held at the jail while awaiting trial for murder.
Markoff was being housed on the sixth floor of the jail in a single cell in a unit where most of his fellow inmates were also accused of murder.
"People sit in cells, read, sometimes they come out for recreation and go to programs..some don't want to do anything,'' Cabral said. As for Markoff's daily life in the jail, Cabral said, "I don't think there was anything remarkable. At the time he took his life there were 90 detainees accused of homicide.''
She said there was "nothing remarkable'' about Markoff.
Cabral confirmed that Markoff was put on suicide watch within a day or two after he arrived at the jail in April 2009 because an officer observed marks on his neck.
Markoff was closely watched and evaluated while on suicide watch, then on May 19, 2009, a psychiatrist made the decision to take him off suicide watch, Cabral said. She added that she did not believe Markoff made any other attempts to kill himself before he apparently committed suicide over the weekend.
She said staff had not noticed anything about Markoff's behavior that raised concerns recently.
"If anything was amiss we would bring him to to evaluate him to determine if he needed to be put on suicide watch and he wasn't,'' said Cabral, adding that there didn't appear to be any warning signs. "As far as I know right now there were no disciplinary problems, no acting out.''
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