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A federal judge overseeing the sex-trafficking case against Jeffrey E. Epstein set a tentative trial date for mid-2020 during the financier’s first court appearance since he was discovered unconscious in his jail cell in what prison officials were investigating as a possible suicide attempt.
The brief hearing on Wednesday morning ended without mention of the July 23 incident at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Mr. Epstein was found passed out in his jail cell with marks on his neck.
The authorities have yet to explain what happened to Mr. Epstein. It remains unclear whether he attempted suicide or was attacked by another inmate.
Martin G. Weinberg, one of Mr. Epstein’s attorneys, asked the judge for 13 months to review the more than one million discovery documents that are expected to surface. Judge Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court in Manhattan suggested that a trial could start as early as June. But he stressed that it could change, depending on the speed of pretrial hearings.
“I will have a much better feel for where things are long before that,” the judge told the attorneys.
A tired-looking Mr. Epstein rested his chin on his folded hands as Judge Berman spoke. Wearing navy blue jail scrubs, Mr. Epstein, 66, displayed no visible emotion.
He has been housed at the federal jail in Lower Manhattan since his arrest on July 6 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after a flight from Paris.
On July 18, Judge Berman denied the former money manager’s request to be granted bail and to await trial under house arrest in his $56 million mansion on the Upper East Side; Mr. Epstein even offered to pay for 24-hour security guards to ensure he did not flee.
Judge Berman found that Mr. Epstein’s “past sexual conduct is not likely to have abated,” and he expressed concern that if Mr. Epstein were released, he would continue to abuse teenage girls. The judge also concluded that Mr. Epstein was a risk to flee, citing his “vast wealth,” which prosecutors have placed at more than $500 million, including private planes and residences in New York, Paris and the Caribbean.
Questions about Mr. Epstein’s health arose after he was found last Tuesday injured and unconscious on the floor of his cell, with bruising around his neck. His injuries were not serious, one law enforcement official said at the time; and another person briefed on the matter said officials had not ruled out the possibility that he had been assaulted by another inmate or had staged the incident.
Officials had not commented about the episode.
Mr. Epstein had been housed in a cell with Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer facing murder charges, in a special unit with strict security measures intended to separate certain inmates from the jail’s general population. A lawyer for Mr. Tartaglione, Bruce Barket, said last week that Mr. Tartaglione and Mr. Epstein got along well, and “any insinuation that he had assaulted Mr. Epstein is a complete and utter fabrication.”
Mr. Epstein faces up to 45 years in prison on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Between 2002 and 2005, according to a federal indictment, he and his employees paid dozens of girls and young women to engage in sex acts with him at his residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla.
Mr. Epstein had avoided federal prosecution after an investigation in Florida ended with a secret deal he negotiated with the United States attorney in Miami. As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty in 2008 to two state prostitution charges and ended up serving 13 months in a local jail, but he was allowed to leave six days a week, for 12 hours a day, purportedly to work.
The United States attorney in Miami who oversaw that deal, Alexander Acosta, was later named by President Trump to be labor secretary; he resigned this summer after his role in the agreement came under sharp criticism after Mr. Epstein’s arrest.
Benjamin Weiser is a reporter covering the Manhattan federal courts. He has long covered criminal justice, both as a beat and investigative reporter. Before joining The Times in 1997, he worked at The Washington Post. @BenWeiserNYT