Death of appeals court judge found dead near river suspicious, police say

Court of Appeals judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam during her swearing-in ceremony at the New York Court of Appeals in Albany, N.Y., Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Police are calling the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam suspicious because there is no clear indication of suicide or criminality.

"We're looking it at as a suspicious death at this point. We haven't found any clear indications of criminality, but at this point we can't say for sure. We're hoping if anyone could shed any light into the hours before her disappearance, it would help us establish what happened," said Stephen Davis, NYPD Spokesman.

The Medical Examiner is still planning to perform an autopsy on 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.

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 last 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.

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.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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