Special team investigates death of judge on New York’s top court; widower disputes suicide theory

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Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.

Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam. New York State Unified Court System photo.

A special team of police investigators is investigating the death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a judge on New York’s top court who was found dead in the Hudson River on April 12.

Early reports said police were treating the death as a suicide. But Abdus-Salaam’s husband, Gregory Jacobs, is challenging the theory, according to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) and the Washington Post.

Jacobs, an Episcopal priest, issued a statement on Wednesday. “Reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife’s possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death. Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality,” he said.

Abdus-Salaam’s family and police are asking anyone with knowledge of the judge’s death to come forward. A surveillance camera showed Abdus-Salaam walking alone near the river late on April 11.

A spokesperson told the New York Law Journal that any time a body is found floating in a river, the death is deemed suspicious in nature. An initial autopsy was inconclusive, according to the Washington Post.

Abdus-Salaam’s family said reports that Abdus-Salaam’s mother and brother had committed suicide were not true. Abdus-Salaam’s mother died at age 92, and her brother had terminal lung cancer, the family statement said.

The family statement also indicated that Abdus-Salaam had not been a practicing Muslim for the past 20 years. Early reports had said Abdus-Salaam was the first female Muslim judge in the United States. She became a lower court judge in 1994. She went on to become a judge on an intermediate appeals court before she joined the state’s top court in 2013.

Abdus-Salaam, 65, was the first female African-American to serve on New York’s top court, the Court of Appeals.




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