No foul play suspected in death of appeals court judge, police say

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Friday, April 14, 2017
Appeals court judge found dead on shore of Hudson
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Kemberly Richardson reports on the judge whose body was found on the bank of the Hudson River.

NEW YORK -- Police say there are no signs of criminality in the death of the first black woman appointed to New York state's highest court.

Medical examiners are still planning to perform an autopsy on 65-year-old Sheila Abdus-Salaam, after the body of the 65-year-old Court of Appeals judge washed up on the shore of the Hudson River.

Meanwhile, those who loved and respected her are left wondering what they could have done to help her.

"I think of Rudyard Kipling when I think of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam," former New York Governor David Patterson said. "To walk with kings and maintain the common touch, that's why I'll miss her the rest of my life."

It was a fitting tribute to a woman once called a humble pioneer, who sources tell Eyewitness News left behind a suicide note.

Paterson knew her as Sheila Turner and was just 18 when they met as college students. In 2009, he designated her Justice for the appellate division.

Former Assemblyman Keith Wright was Abdus-Salaam's neighbor, and he saw her just a few days ago.

"We pointed to her as a beacon, an example, a paragon of what is right in our neighborhood," he said. "Especially in the legal field, this was the type of woman who the sky was the limit."

Police say Abdus-Salaam was last seen around 7 p.m. Monday, then spoke Tuesday morning with her assistant by phone. Detectives are now looking for any possible surveillance video in her Harlem neighborhood, for any clues to how and why she ended up in the Hudson.

"To the extent that the challenges and the stress in her life contributed to this, it's a reminder that even the most accomplished people still deal with extraordinary challenges inward," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "And we don't get to see that."

Governor Andrew Cuomo once praised Abdus-Salaam for her deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers, many of those same people now mourning her loss.

"If you were in her presence, you were certainly blessed for that day," Wright said.

Abdus-Salaam 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. She served as a judge in Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years.