Video Shows Judge on Hudson Shore Before Her Death

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Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam in 2013. Credit Mike Groll/Associated Press

More than a week after the body of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the Hudson River, the police in New York City were still piecing together her last moments, trying to determine how her life came to an end.

The night before her body was discovered, video cameras recorded Judge Abdus-Salaam, a widely respected New York State Court of Appeals jurist, walking around for hours in Riverbank State Park in Upper Manhattan, according to several people briefed on the investigation into her death.

Surveillance footage shows the judge leaving her home in Harlem on the evening of April 11, wearing the same clothes that she wore when she was found the next day, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation. Judge Abdus-Salaam then made her way to the park; the cameras last captured her standing near the water’s edge.

The medical examiner’s office has not made a determination on what caused the death of Judge Abdus-Salaam, who was the first black woman to serve on the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. Her body was found on the afternoon of April 12 in shallow water along the shore of the Hudson River near West 132nd Street.

This week, a police spokesman said that the judge’s death was being deemed as “suspicious,” a characterization that applies to cases in which the circumstances have not been clearly established.

But after nine days of investigation, detectives and police officials were still leaning toward the conclusion that Judge Abdus-Salaam, 65, took her own life, although some questions remained unanswered, three people briefed on the inquiry said on Friday. Perhaps foremost among them is why the judge might have committed suicide.

An autopsy uncovered bruises on the judge’s neck, and found water in her lungs, suggesting that she was alive when she went into the river, a police official said. One possibility, the official said, was that she had been choked sometime — even days earlier — before going into the river.

Investigators indicated it was possible the marks could stem from bruising incurred during her body’s retrieval.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the judge’s husband, the Rev. Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, an Episcopal priest in Newark, pushed back against the idea that his wife had committed suicide.

“Some media outlets and others have conjectured that Sheila was the victim of a ‘probable suicide,’” the statement said. “These 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.”

In the absence of any conclusive evidence, the statement said, the family believed “such speculations to be unwarranted and irresponsible.”

Mr. Jacobs also said the family was thankful for the Police Department’s efforts and said they were praying that “the facts will ultimately be made known.”

Many of the judge’s friends and colleagues said they could not believe that she had killed herself. Other close friends, however, suggested she may have struggled with the pressure that came with a heavy caseload and other responsibilities, such as her speaking engagements.

The anniversaries of the deaths of the judge’s mother and brother around the Easter holiday also could have been stressors. Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation into the judge’s death had initially said that both deaths had been suicides.

But Judge Abdus-Salaam’s family said in a statement on Wednesday that her mother, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, did not commit suicide. The judge’s younger brother, the statement said, “lost his battle with terminal lung cancer” in 2014.

Law enforcement officials acknowledged on Friday that they had erroneous information regarding the death of the judge’s mother.

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