Reinforcing what critics call a "culture of indifference" on Rikers Island, the AP is reporting that a mentally ill inmate died in his overheated cell last month. An official told the AP that 56-year-old Jerome Murdough "basically baked to death" in his cell, which had reached the temperature of at least 100 degrees due to malfunctioning heating equipment. Murdough, a former Marine, was arrested for trespassing after police found him sleeping in a Harlem stairwell in early February.

Murdough was taking anti-psychotics and medication for his seizures at the time of his death. The AP reports:

According to the city officials, Murdough was locked alone into his 6-by-10 cinderblock cell at about 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, a week after his arrest. Because he was in the mental-observation unit, he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of suicide watch, they said. But Murdough was not discovered until four hours later, at about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 15. He was slumped over in his bed and already dead.

When Murdough was found and his cell opened, his internal body temperature and the temperature in the cell were at least 100 degrees. Those temperatures could have been higher before he was discovered because the cell had been closed for several hours, the officials said.

Dr. Susi Vassallo, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine and a national expert on heat-related deaths who monitors heat conditions at Rikers Island, said psychotropic medications can impair the body's ability to cool itself by sweating, making it retain more heat than it should.

Exposure to intense heat for a couple of hours by someone on such medications could be fatal, she said.

The Times reported today that 40% of the inmates at Rikers have been diagnosed with mental illness. Murdough's 75-year-old mother Alma wasn't aware of her son's death until the AP contacted her last week.

"He was a very lovely, caring guy," said Murdough, adding that her son had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and that she had not seen him in about three years.

"He had beer problems. Drinking beer. That was his downfall. Other than that, he was a very nice guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back."

A DOC spokesman told the AP that the department will investigate the details surrounding the incident, "including issues of staff performance and the adequacy of procedures."