© Reuters. PHOTOGRAPHY: Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, sits while the jury continues to deliberate at her trial in a sketch in a courtroom in New York, USA, December 28, 2021. REUTERS / Jane Rosenberg
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Wednesday found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of aiding the late financier Jeffrey Epstein in sexually abusing teenage girls, sealing an incredible decline in British society.
Maxwell, 60, is accused of recruiting and grooming four teenagers from 1994 to 2004 for Epstein, her ex-boyfriend, who killed himself in 2019 in a Manhattan prison cell while awaiting trial for his own sexual assault charges.
She was convicted on five of six counts, including one for sex trafficking. Maxwell’s lawyers, who face up to 65 years in prison, have promised to appeal.
Maxwell’s trial is widely seen as a showdown that Epstein never had and one of the most interesting cases since the #MeToo movement, which prompted women to talk about sexual abuse by famous and powerful people.
During the month-long trial, jurors heard emotional and explicit testimonies from four women who portrayed Maxwell as a key role in their abuse by Epstein. Three of the four said Maxwell herself touched their bare breasts or participated in meetings that often began as massages.
Maxwell’s lawyers sought to undermine women’s credibility, claiming they were motivated by the money to involve Maxwell as all four received millions in awards from the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund.
But the women challenged those characteristics, saying they chose to testify out of a desire for justice, not money.
“Money will never fix what that woman did to me,” testified one woman, known as Carolyn, who said Maxwell once touched her bare breasts and buttocks as she prepared to massage Epstein when she was 14 in 2002. .
Carolyn’s case was at the center of a sex trafficking charge because she said Maxwell would sometimes give her hundreds of dollars in cash after giving Epstein erotic massages. Epstein would masturbate during a meeting at his Palm Beach estate in Florida, Carolyn testified.
The jury deliberated for a full five days before reaching a verdict.
After the verdict was read, Maxwell, dressed in a burgundy dolce, poured herself a glass of water. Defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca patted her upper back. The expressionless Maxwell glanced briefly at her two siblings sitting in the front row as she exited the courtroom.
Annie Farmer, one of the women who testified against Maxwell, said: “I was so relieved and grateful that the jury recognized the pattern of predatory behavior that Maxwell had been involved in for years and found her guilty of these crimes.”
Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim told reporters that the defense was disappointed with the verdict.
“We have already started working on the appeal and we are confident that it will be upheld,” Sternheim said in front of the courthouse.
Maxwell will return to the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, where she has been held in isolation since July 2020. Maxwell expressed concern about her treatment in prison, claiming guards disrupted her night’s sleep and that the stench of raw sewage permeated her cell.
Sternheim asked U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan after the verdict was read to ensure Maxwell received an additional vaccine against COVID-19. Nathan said the footage is available at MDC and she will examine it.
‘THE WAY TO JUSTICE’
Conditions at the MDC are far from the luxuries to which Maxwell, the daughter of the late British journalist Baron Robert Maxwell, was accustomed for most of her life.
Her father founded a record label and owns a tabloid, including the Daily Mirror. He was found dead from his yacht near the Canary Islands in 1991.
Ghislaine Maxwell dated Epstein for several years in the 1990s, when the couple attended high society parties and traveled on luxury private jets.
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors bank records stating that Epstein had paid Maxwell millions of dollars over the years. They said Maxwell was motivated to do whatever it took to keep Epstein happy to maintain his luxurious lifestyle.
Maxwell’s lawyers claimed the prosecutors were her scapegoat because Epstein was no longer alive.
“Epstein’s death left a gaping hole in the search for justice for many of these women,” Sternheim said. “She fills that hole, and fills that empty chair.”
But prosecutors objected, describing Maxwell as Epstein’s “partner in crime.”
“Ghislaine Maxwell decided for herself. She committed crimes hand in hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was an adult woman who knew exactly what she was doing,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe.
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, welcomed the verdict in a statement saying Maxwell had been convicted of “one of the worst crimes imaginable.”
“The road to justice has been too long,” he said in a statement. “But today justice is served. I want to commend the courage of the girls – now adult women – who came out of the shadows and entered the courtroom.”
Epstein’s arrest and suicide drew attention to Maxwell’s role in his abuses and the financiers’ relationship with prominent figures such as former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Britain’s Prince Andrew and billionaire investor Leon Black.
No one has been charged with Epstein-related crimes.
The prince, a former friend of Epstein’s, is defending himself against a civil lawsuit in Manhattan claiming he sexually abused Virginia Giuffre, another of Epstein’s prosecutors. Andrew refuted her claims.
‘IT DIDN’T FEEL NORMAL’
During the trial, prosecutors presented the jury with a green massage table seized from Epstein’s estate in Florida in 2005, supporting a female description of the massage.
One of the charges that Maxwell was acquitted of – inciting an underage girl to travel for the purpose of illegal sexual activity – provided for a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The charge concerned a woman known by the pseudonym Jane, who testified that she was 14 when Epstein first abused her in 1994.
Jane said she traveled frequently to Epstein’s homes in New Mexico and New York, where some of the abuse occurred, and that Maxwell sometimes helped coordinate her trip.
Maxwell sometimes participated in her sexual encounters with Epstein and acted as if that was normal, Jane testified.
“I felt confused because it didn’t seem normal to me,” Jane said. “I’ve never seen anything like it or felt anything like this.”
Despite the unjustified verdict on that point, the jury seemed to find other aspects of Jane’s story credible. Maxwell was convicted of transporting minors on a journey for illegal sexual acts, another count that concerned exclusively Jane.
Moe said in her closing remarks that Maxwell’s presence made the young girls feel comfortable with Epstein. Otherwise, receiving an invitation to spend time with a middle-aged man would seem “creepy” and “would ring the bell,” Moe said.
“Epstein couldn’t do it alone,” she said.