Jerome Murdough—A Trespassing Arrest Becomes a Death Sentence at Rikers

July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Jerome Murdough was a 56-year-old Marine Corps veteran. Murdough suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, and was homeless for the last few years.

On a bitterly cold night in February 2014, New York City police found Murdough sleeping in the stairwell of a Harlem housing project. The police arrested him for trespassing, a minor misdemeanor. Bail was set outrageously high—$2,500—so Murdough was locked up on Rikers Island to await trial.

Rikers’ officials recognized Murdough was mentally ill and even placed him on suicide watch, which means he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes. But on the evening of Valentine’s Day he was placed alone in a cell where the temperature soared to 100 degrees. Some of his medications are known to increase vulnerability to heat.

Four hours later when guards finally checked on him he was dead from dehydration and heat stroke. One jail official told the Associated Press (AP), “He basically baked to death.” Murdough’s sister, Cheryl Warner, said: “They just put him in there and went about their business, you know?... and come back four hours later? That’s terrible—like he’s not a human being?” (CBS News, March 19, 2014)

The system’s cruel disregard for Murdough’s humanity even continued after his death. His mother, Alma Murdough, said she was never even notified of his death—she only found out about it a month later when AP contacted her for their article, and even after that the Department of Corrections never reached out to her. She also said that when she tried to contact the Marine Corps to secure the military funeral to which he was entitled as a veteran, the Marines didn’t respond, leaving the family to handle the funeral on their own. (Military Times, April 25, 2014)

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