Police seek clues in death of judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam

NYPD calls on public to track final movements of Sheila Abdus-Salaam as her widower slams reports she committed suicide.

    Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman to serve on New York's highest court [Hans Pennink/AP]
    Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman to serve on New York's highest court [Hans Pennink/AP]

    US police are asking for the public's help as they try to track the movements of a pioneering judge before she was found dead in New York's Hudson River.

    Sheila Abdus-Salaam's body was found along the riverbank near her Manhattan home on April 12. She had been reported missing a day earlier.

    Two law enforcement officials say the death is being treated as a suicide. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

    But Abdus-Salaam's husband, Gregory Jacobs, warned against treating her death as a suicide.

    "These reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife's possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death," Jacobs, who is a minister at the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, wrote in a statement.

    "Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality."

    READ MORE - Sheila Abdus-Salaam: New Yorkers mourn judge's death

    Abdus-Salaam, her widower wrote, "loved Harlem and its people and lived there for nearly all of her adult life".

    "I now join with the NYPD [New York Police Department] in asking anyone in the neighbourhood to step forward with any information that might help us determine what may have happened during those hours before her death," the priest pleaded.

    Investigators were looking for any video or any witnesses who may have seen the 65-year-old in the time leading up to her death.

    An autopsy was inconclusive as to the cause of death and required further study.

    Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman on New York state's highest court.

    'Trailblazing jurist'

    Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the state's Court of Appeals in 2013, earlier called her a "trailblazing jurist".

    "As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state's Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer," Cuomo said.

    "Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come."

    Abdus-Salaam, who was 65 years old, graduated from Barnard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School.

    She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a judge on New York state's Supreme Court for 14 years, according to the Office of Court Administration's website.

    The president of the New York State Bar Association, Claire Gutekunst, said Abdus-Salaam grew up poor in a family of seven children in Washington, DC, and "rose to become one of the seven judges in New York's highest court, where her intellect, judicial temperament and wisdom earned her wide respect".

    SOURCE: AP news agency


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