Prosecutors completed presenting their case against Ghislaine Maxwell on Friday after a key accuser at the British socialite's sex-abuse trial testified that Maxwell and her companion, Jeffrey Epstein, forced themselves on her when she was just 16.
Annie Farmer told jurors she accepted an invitation to the financier’s sprawling New Mexico ranch in 1996 hoping that Maxwell and Epstein would help her with academic endeavours. Instead, she said, Maxwell ended up massaging her breasts and Epstein climbed into bed without her permission.
Three others have asserted at the trial that began two weeks ago that Maxwell recruited them to give Epstein massages meant as a ruse for sexual abuse.
Maxwell, 59, has denied charges she groomed underage girls for Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019. Her lawyers say the government is making her a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes committed by her onetime boyfriend and moved immediately for a judgment of acquittal after prosecutors rested Friday afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan heard brief arguments and rejected the request that she acquit Maxwell without the jury ever getting the case.
The judge told the jury they will return on Thursday to hear the defence case, which an attorney estimated would likely last two to three days. The judge has suggested that closing arguments — at a trial originally projected to last six weeks — might occur as early as Dec. 20 if the defence presentation next week only lasts a day or two.
In her testimony, Farmer recalled the unwanted physical contact making her feel like she "just wanted the weekend to be over. … I wanted to be done with it.”
She added: “All these experiences made me feel like they had a very different interest in me."
Asked by a prosecutor at the start of her testimony if she saw anyone in the courtroom who had ever given her a massage, Farmer identified Maxwell, who was sitting at the defence table looking at Farmer.
Farmer, now 42, took the stand using her true identity — a departure from the decision by three other accusers with similar stories who testified under pseudonyms or first names only to protect their privacy.
Two of the others who testified said they were just 14 when the abuse started and that Maxwell sometimes participated in the encounters.
Farmer testified that she met Epstein at age 16 on a 1996 trip to New York City to visit her older sister, who was working for him at his Manhattan mansion. When they visited him at the home, he “seemed very friendly and down to earth,” and even offered to mentor her, she said.
She said that during an outing to the movies with Epstein, he reached over to hold her hand and caress her leg.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” she said. “It was not something I was expecting at all.”
When Farmer returned home, she stayed in touch with the wealthy financier and accepted an invitation to travel to New Mexico with a plane ticket he paid for even though, she said, “after what happened in the movie theatre, I didn’t want to be alone with him."
She said she initially felt more comfortable because Maxwell was there. But when they took her to the movies, he “right away began to hold my hand” and rub her foot and arm throughout the film with no effort to hide the behaviour from Maxwell, she said.
Once home, Maxwell insisted on giving Farmer a massage and told her to take off her clothes, Farmer testified. Maxwell “pulled down the sheet and exposed my breasts and starting rubbing on my breasts,” Farmer said.
“It didn’t make sense to me that would happen,” she said. “I so badly wanted to get off the table and have the massage be done.”
Farmer accepted $1.5 million from a fund set up to compensate Epstein victims, she testified.
The encounters occurred in New Mexico, which did not have a specific age of consent statute, although its laws criminalized all sexual contact of a minor under the age of 13 when coercion or force is involved.
On cross-examination, a defence lawyer repeatedly emphasized through her questions that Maxwell was not involved in the most egregious behaviour described by Farmer and elicited that Farmer was not sure she was naked during her massage, although she was certain that her breasts were exposed.
Prosecutors also called Farmer's former boyfriend and her mother as witnesses to support her testimony.
David James Mulligan, 42, testified that Farmer told him that she was “touched on the breast” when she was massaged in New Mexico.
“She told me that she felt fearful and awkward and helpless,” he said.
Janice Swain, 71, Farmer's mother, testified that Epstein told her before the New Mexico trip that her daughter would be joined by 20 to 25 other students there.
Swain said when Farmer arrived home from the trip, she was “quiet and withdrawn.” When Farmer finally did say something at a later date, she said: “I don't want to talk about it and I'm not going to let it ruin my life,” the mother recalled.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they were victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward publicly. Although Farmer was not identified by name in court documents, the practising psychologist has been outspoken in describing her experiences in interviews with ABC and The New York Times.
Maxwell has been jailed since she was arrested in New Hampshire in July 2020. When she sought bail, Farmer asked the judge to deny it, calling her a “psychopath.”