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Death of pioneering New York judge is ruled suicide

Death of pioneering New York judge is ruled suicide

Official cause drowning
Death of pioneering New York judge is ruled suicide
Photographer: Shutterstock

NEW YORK — Putting to rest a mystery that initially puzzled investigators, the New York City medical examiner’s office ruled Wednesday that the death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman to serve on New York state’s highest court, was a suicide.

In a statement, the medical examiner’s office said the cause of the judge’s death was drowning.

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On April 12, the body of Judge Abdus-Salaam, 65, was discovered — fully clothed and with no apparent signs of trauma — floating in shallow water along the shore of the Hudson River near West 132nd Street in Harlem, not far from her home. A few days earlier, the police said, she had called her office in Manhattan to say she was not feeling well and would not be coming in. The next day, when the judge failed to appear at work, her assistant grew concerned and contacted her husband, who reported her missing.

For more than a week, investigators had sought to piece together Abdus-Salaam’s last hours, attempting to determine how her life came to an end.

Although a police official said at the time that her death had been deemed “suspicious,” detectives eventually leaned toward the conclusion that she had killed herself, especially after images from surveillance cameras emerged showing that on the night before her body was found, Abdus-Salaam had been walking around for hours in Riverbank State Park in Upper Manhattan.

Police officials said an autopsy of the judge’s body uncovered bruises on her neck and found water in her lungs, suggesting that she had been alive when she went into the river. Investigators indicated that it was possible that the bruises were made during the retrieval of the body.

In the early days of the investigation, Abdus-Salaam’s husband, Gregory A. Jacobs, challenged the speculation that his wife had killed herself. In a statement in April, Jacobs, an Episcopal priest in Newark, New Jersey, said that those who “knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality.”

In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Paul G. Feinman, a Manhattan appeals court judge, to replace Abdus-Salaam on the New York State Court of Appeals. When the state Senate confirmed Feinman’s nomination that month, he became the court’s first openly gay judge.

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