By Luc Cohen
NEWYORK -Ghislaine Maxwell appeared in Manhattan federal court on Monday for her trial on charges she recruited and groomed underage girls for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein to abuse, with opening statements set to begin after jury selection concludes.
U.S. prosecutors have said that between 1994 and 2004, Maxwell – a former employee and romantic partner of Epstein’s – gained the girls’ trust by taking them to movies, sending them gifts such as lingerie and discussing sexual topics, according to a 2021 indictment.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes, including two counts of perjury that will be tried at a later date. Maxwell, who appeared in court wearing a white face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Jury selection expected to conclude on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan excused one prospective juror who said his co-workers had figured out that he might serve on Maxwell’s jury, and had expressed “adamant and passionate” opinions about the case to him.
Maxwell’s lawyers have said that prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell, as a scapegoat https://www.reuters.com/world/maxwell-challenge-accusers-seek-distance-epstein-sex-abuse-trial-2021-11-23. Epstein died by suicide at 66 in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex abuse allegations.
NO FISHLEFT TO FRY
“Left with no fish to attempt to fry, the government belatedly turned to Ms. Maxwell,” her lawyers wrote in a Feb. 4 filing.
Maxwell’s trial comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R. Kelly accused of misconduct. The case against Maxwell stands out in part because she is a woman.
Prosecutors had accused Epstein of paying underage girls, some as young as 14, to give him erotic massages https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/epsteins-shadow-looms-over-jury-selection-maxwell-sex-crimes-trial-2021-11-04. Prosecutors say Maxwell encouraged the girls to massage Epstein while the girls were fully or partially nude.
Epstein or Maxwell would sometimes pay them cash or offer to pay for their travel or education, and Epstein sometimes masturbated or touched the girls’ genitals during the massages, prosecutors said.
“Victims were made to feel indebted and believed that Maxwell and Epstein were trying to help them,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
In some instances, Maxwell “was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims,” they added.
Maxwell was arrested in July 2020. Since then, Nathan has denied four requests for bail, concluding that Maxwell is a flight risk.
Those denials have been upheld on appeal, and Maxwell has spent the past 17 months in isolation at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), where she has voiced concern about unsanitary conditions https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ghislaine-maxwell-sex-crimes-trial-highlights-conditions-brooklyn-jail-2021-11-18.
Maxwell’s lawyers have indicated that they will question the credibility of the four alleged victims by asking why they waited to come forward and arguing that they have financial incentives to lie or exaggerate.
“Any accuser who testifies that Ms. Maxwell participated in sex abuse or sex trafficking is not telling the truth,” Maxwell’s lawyers wrote in court papers.
One woman was motivated by a “desire for cash,” they said in a separate filing.
A defense expert witness — the prominent psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who testified for the defense in the rape trial of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the murder trial of real estate heir Robert Durst — is expected to testify about how people can be manipulated into having “false memories.”
Some legal experts say the strategy is risky https://www.reuters.com/world/maxwell-challenge-accusers-seek-distance-epstein-sex-abuse-trial-2021-11-23 in the post #MeToo era, and that prosecutors would not have charged Maxwell unless they were confident the accusers’ testimonies would withstand scrutiny.
“Victim shaming … doesn’t work, especially now in 2021, and it usually hurts you,” said Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, a New York defense attorney who specializes in sex crimes cases.