It was lost, then it was found, and now it is gone.
So goes the saga of video footage from outside the jail cell of multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, recorded on the day he may have first tried, but failed, to kill himself.
Federal prosecutors said in December they were unable to locate the video, which would have showed guards finding Epstein after his first apparent suicide attempt in July. Then, just a day later, they wrote in a court filing that they had found the footage and were "in the process of obtaining a copy" from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was held.
But on Thursday, Jan. 9, prosecutors reversed themselves again, saying the video "no longer exists" because of "technical errors." Jail officials initially thought they had saved footage from outside Epstein's cell, when in fact the footage they preserved was from a different part of the facility, explained Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maurene Comey and Jason Swergold in the latest filing.
The new development is the latest twist in Epstein's high-profile case, which has fueled conspiracy theories and exposed mismanagement at the Bureau of Prisons in the months since the financier was found dead in a later suicide at the Manhattan facility.
The video back-and-forth played out in the federal criminal case of Epstein's former cellmate, Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer who has pleaded not guilty to homicide charges in the deaths of four men who disappeared during a drug dispute. Tartaglione's attorney, Bruce Barket, had asked jail officials to preserve copies of the footage, believing it would portray his client in a positive light and bolster his defense.
After prosecutors revealed the video was gone, Barket said he would ask the court to hold a hearing "to determine what actually occurred."
"The various and inconsistent accounts of what happened to that video are deeply troubling," he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.
Epstein was in jail without bond, awaiting trial on charges that he had sexually abused dozens of young girls in the early 2000s. He faced a prison term of up to 45 years.
On July 23, guards heard Tartaglione's yell from the cell he shared with Epstein, people familiar with investigations into the jail's response told The Post. Tartaglione told them he had noticed that Epstein had a bedsheet around his neck and appeared to be trying to kill himself.
Epstein later denied that, claiming instead that he had been attacked - an allegation Tartaglione denied.
Authorities suspected an attempted suicide and placed him on watch for the next week or so, monitoring him 24-7. But in late July, he was returned to the jail's special housing unit and assigned a new cellmate. But on Aug. 9, despite the fact that at least eight officials knew he wasn't to be left alone in his cell, his fellow inmate was relocated.
By the next morning, Epstein was dead.
New York's chief medical examiner ruled that Epstein had hanged himself and said the cause of death was suicide.
But in the months that followed, government inquiries into the facility's handling of his death unearthed a litany of missteps by jail staffers and failed to quiet the crush of unfounded speculation that Epstein had been killed because he had dirt on his powerful friends.
In November, two jail workers were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and making false records after they allegedly forged paperwork saying they had conducted regular checks on Epstein in the hours before he killed himself.
Instead of checking on him, the two staffers were shopping and checking sports scores online, prosecutors said.
The death of the most high-profile defendant in the federal prison system also led to a major leadership shake-up at the Bureau of Prisons. Attorney General William P. Barr brought in a former director of the agency to run it again, and replaced the jail's top official, saying the preliminary investigation had found "serious irregularities at the center."
After the prosecutors' latest disclosure, one of Epstein's attorneys, Marc Fernich, told the Associated Press that the missing video "only adds to the unanswered questions and deepens the air of mystery" around Epstein's death.
Fernich added: "Nothing about Jeffrey Epstein's prosecution and death in federal custody surprises or could surprise me at this point."
This article was written by Reis Thebault, a reporter for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.