Jurors weighing Ghislaine Maxwell’s fate late Tuesday, the fifth day of deliberation, told the judge they were making progress – and then asked them to go home earlier.
During their deliberations, 12 jurors sent a series of intriguing and confusing smoke signals in notes that were forwarded to the judge. The length of their discussion suggests government case he was not superior, although there are potentially worrying signs for the defense as well.
A more immediate cause for concern was the threat of Covid-19, as fierce om Omicron spreads through New York. The longer the jurors discuss, the greater the risk that one or more of them will become infected, which could potentially lead to the annulment of the proceedings.
Judge Alison Nathan acknowledged the risk when she ordered jurors on Tuesday to sit all week, and even a weekend, until they reach a verdict, due to an “astronomical leap” in the Covid cases.
“Time is a friend of the defense, especially in this case,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who now works at the West Coast Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles. He saw this as a worrying sign for prosecutors when the jury failed to reach a verdict before the Christmas holidays.
“The longer this lasts, the worse it is for the prosecution and the higher the risk that one juror will be stiff and this jury will be hanged,” Rahmani said.
Even so, he didn’t expect it Maxwell, 60, to acquit, which would require the jury to acquit her of all six charges of allegedly grooming underage women for their former accomplice Jeffrey Epstein for sexual abuse.
Epstein died by suicide in a New York prison cell in 2019, a month after his arrest on charges of sex trafficking. Maxwell, a British socialite and the daughter of the late journalist baron and embezzler, Robert Maxwell, was arrested the following year. She dismissed the charges, and her lawyers claimed she became a scapegoat for his misdeeds.
The jurors, after returning from a Christmas break, asked for a whiteboard and marking pens on Monday morning, suggesting they are studiously solving a complicated case involving events from more than 20 years ago.
They also sought the testimony of Fr. one of Epstein’s pilots, whose records show that he flew at least four times with one of his boss’s then-juvenile prosecutors, as well as for the definition of the word “seduction”.
While it’s impossible to know where they stand, Maxwell had a hunch a week ago when jurors asked if they could consider the testimony of one witness, Annie Farmer.
Farmer testified about a trip to Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico when she was 16, where Maxwell, she said, encouraged her to have a nude massage and then touched the top of her breasts. Now a licensed psychologist with an Ivy League education, Farmer was a seemingly undisputed witness whose testimony was supported by her ex-boyfriend from high school and her mother.
“The answer is yes, you can think about it,” the judge said, with opposition from Maxwell’s lawyers.
Other government witnesses have cited abuse over the years, and although the broad moves have been similar, some inconsistencies could offer a foothold to any juror who is reluctant to trust them.
One witness, identified as Carolyn, recalled accompanying an older friend to Epstein’s Palm Beach Palace when she was 14 to massage a wealthy man for money. There she met a woman she knew as “Maxwell,” said Carolyn, who helped organize some of some 100 or so such visits over the next two years in which Epstein would abuse her.
But in cross-examination, Carolyn admitted she did not mention Maxwell to the FBI when she first spoke to Epstein in 2007. The following year, the defense noted, she filed a civil lawsuit against Epstein and Sarah Kellen, one of his aides – but not Maxwell.
Carolyn is the only witness whose testimony supports the accusation of sexual trafficking of minors, for which the most severe punishment is provided: up to 40 years in prison.
Maxwell’s lawyers and family were encouraged when jurors on the second day of the hearing asked to review a copy of Carolyn’s FBI statement, although the judge refused as it was not admitted into evidence.
Another government witness, identified as Jane, also testified about the alleged abuse by Epstein and Maxwell that began when she was 14 and her family was in a difficult situation after her father died of cancer.
During cross-examination, Maxwell’s lawyer, Laura Menninger, noted that Jane had waited 20 years to report her claim to police.
Jane told the jury that Epstein and Maxwell took her to his bedroom when she was 14, and took off their clothes before forcing her to do so. But after a meeting in December 2019, the FBI wrote that Jane did not “particularly remember” the first sexualized massage that Maxwell attended. “You’ve come to that memory in the last two years?” Menninger asked.
The defense also repeatedly cited money received by women from the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund, claiming that they had changed their accounts over the years to help the government and thereby strengthen their own claims.
“Historically, in cases of sexual abuse, the government must produce a huge number of victims,” Rahmani said of the prosecutor’s challenge. “These were the four best sacrifices the government had.”