Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide has ignited a backlash from elected officials and the public who wonder how he could have ever been left unattended in his prison cell long enough to cheat justice.

The news of his death may be of some comfort to his victims, but it also denied them the opportunity to face their abuser in court. Epstein was in a Manhattan prison awaiting trial over charges of sex trafficking minors, to which he had pleaded not guilty.

He had faced similar accusations a decade ago but his lawyers worked out a secret plea deal with Miami-based federal prosecutors in 2008. It let Epstein avoid federal prosecution on charges that he molested teenage girls in favor of a state plea to minor prostitution charges that netted him minimal jail time.

A West Palm Beach judge found this year that the deal had violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act because the victims were not informed or consulted.

The details and the backstory of the plea deal came to light last fall when the Miami Herald published a six-part series called "Perversion of Justice" that raised questions about whether Epstein received preferential treatment because he's rich and well-connected.

Now the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is examining whether the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time, Alex Acosta, and other federal prosecutors committed misconduct in negotiating a deal with Epstein. Acosta would later become the U.S. secretary of labor in 2017 until he resigned last month amid an uproar over his role in Epstein's prosecution.

Acosta stepped down July 12, six days after Epstein was arrested on new sex trafficking charges in New York. This was the case that was finally going to give Epstein's victims their day in court and, hopefully, expose the number of collaborators that enabled Epstein to victimize so many teenage girls from the comfort of his home.

There are so many unresolved questions. Though he's dead, investigators still owe the public an explanation for how he was able to manipulate the U.S. justice system and who may have helped him.

None of these questions would have surfaced without the Miami Herald's extraordinary dedication to — and investment in — investigative journalism. The same kind of digging takes place every day at even the smallest newspapers across the country by reporters who hold powerful people in their communities to account by asking questions.

While news here in the Grand Valley rarely rises to the national level as this story has, rest assured that we at the Sentinel take our mission just as seriously.

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