Husband of NY judge found dead in river challenges 'suicide'

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Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam (file)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Justice Abdus-Salaam was described as a "trailblazing jurist"

The husband of US judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, found dead last week in a New York City river, has called reports of her apparent suicide "unfounded".

The Rev Gregory Jacobs joined police on Wednesday in his first public comments since her death to urge anyone to come forward with details on what happened.

The 65-year-old judge was found dead in the Hudson River with no signs of foul play or criminality, police say.

But Mr Jacobs dismissed the possibility that she may have taken her own life.

"These reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife's possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death," Mr Jacobs wrote in a statement to NBC News.

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

Ms Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman to serve in New York's highest court, was discovered on 12 April, a day after her husband reported her missing.

Police had reportedly treated the death as a possible suicide, but an initial autopsy last week was inconclusive and the cause of death is still pending, according to Medical Examiner's Office spokeswoman Julie Bolcer.

Police are now treating the case as suspicious.

"Until such a determination is made, the death may be classified as suspicious, in that the circumstances have not been clearly established," the NYPD said in a statement to CNN.

Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for NYPD, told reporters there were no apparent injuries to her body and her death did not appear to be criminal in nature.

Surveillance footage showed the judge walking alone near the river in the Harlem neighbourhood about 12 hours before her body was found in the water, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

She was seen dressed in the same clothing she was wearing when her body was found, according to Sergeant Brendan Ryan.

Ms Abdus-Salaam's extended family has also pushed back on what they said are inaccurate reports that her mother and brother had committed suicide.

"Sheila's mother, the matriarch of our family who died at age 92 in 2012, did not take her own life," the family said in a statement.

"Shelia's younger brother, who died in 2014, lost his battle with terminal lung cancer."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her to the New York Court of Appeals in 2013, hailed her as a "trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all".