Ghislaine Maxwell jury begins deliberations in sex trafficking trial

NEW YORK — A jury began deliberations Monday, tasked with considering whether Ghislaine Maxwell is a dangerous predator who recruited teens to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein — as prosecutors put it — or the “innocent woman” a defense attorney described.

The jury received the case just before 5 p.m. after two prosecutors and a defense lawyer delivered their closing arguments over a six-hour period. They deliberated less than an hour and went home after being told to return at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Maxwell, 59, had been composed, if not cheerful, as she interacted with her lawyers and family members for the first three weeks of the trial. But she seemed emotional as Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey rebutted defense arguments and asserted the British socialite believed her four trial accusers were beneath her.

“In her eyes, they were just trash,” Comey said as Maxwell shook her head slightly and then drooped her eyes.

Earlier, she had wiped her eyes twice as Comey attacked defense portrayals of the women who testified about abuse they incurred as teenagers. The prosecutor said Maxwell played a pivotal role in Epstein’s quest to sexually abuse teenage girls.

Defense lawyer Laura Menninger had argued that the women’s recollections of abuse by Epstein and Maxwell were flawed memories manipulated decades later by lawyers seeking payouts or U.S. government investigators seeking a scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in a federal jail in 2019 while awaiting his own sex trafficking trial.

Comey called a defense claim that Maxwell didn’t know about abuse that occurred for more than a decade a “laughable argument.”

“Those four witnesses gave you the most damaging testimony in this trial,” she said. “These women put themselves through the hell of testifying at this trial even though they have nothing to gain.”

Comey added: “They did it for justice.”

The prosecutor started her remarks by disputing a claim by the defense that nearly all the evidence pertained to Epstein, and Maxwell did not deserve to be blamed as an conspirator in his crimes.

“This case is about that woman,” Comey said, pointing at Maxwell, who sat at the defense table in a white sweater as four of her siblings watched from the first bench of spectators in a courtroom where everyone followed spacing rules dictated by the coronavirus.

Ghislaine Maxwell, founder of the TerraMar Project and seen here at a hearing at the United Nations on June 25, 2013, is accused of enticing girls to perform sex acts with Jeffrey Epstein at his estates in Palm Beach, Manhattan and other locations. Her sex trafficking trial is underway in New York. (United Nations Photo/Rick Bajornas via AP, File)

Ghislaine Maxwell, founder of the TerraMar Project and seen here at a hearing at the United Nations on June 25, 2013, is accused of enticing girls to perform sex acts with Jeffrey Epstein at his estates in Palm Beach, Manhattan and other locations. Her sex trafficking trial is underway in New York. (United Nations Photo/Rick Bajornas via AP, File) (Rick Bajornas/AP)

Earlier, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe called Maxwell the “lady of the house” when Epstein abused girls at a New York mansion, a Palm Beach estate and a New Mexico ranch.

“Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous,” Moe said. She cited over $30 million that Maxwell received from Epstein over the years. “Maxwell and Epstein committed horrifying crimes.”

Menninger, though, said prosecutors had failed to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt: “Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit.”

“Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Menninger stated plainly.

She cited numerous inconsistencies in statements made by women over the years, saying “their memories are highly flawed” and there are “many reasons to hesitate and many reasons to doubt.”

“She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe that’s the biggest mistake of her life, but it’s not a crime,” Menninger added.

The summations came at the start of the fourth week of a trial that was originally projected to last six weeks. With a coronavirus outbreak in New York worsening by the day and a holiday weekend ahead, Judge Alison J. Nathan urged lawyers to keep their closings tight so the jury could begin deliberating as early as Monday.

Maxwell has been jailed since her arrest in July 2020. The judge has denied her bail repeatedly, despite her lawyer’s arguments that the pledge of her $22.5 million estate and a willingness to be watched 24 hours a day by armed guards would guarantee her appearance in court.

The closings came after two dozen prosecution witnesses testified, including the four women who say they were abused by Epstein with the help of Maxwell when they were teenagers.

She asked them to ignore the testimony of a psychology professor called by the defense, saying the testimony that memories can fade over time and be influenced by what people hear, see or read was a “total distraction.”

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“These women know what happened to their own bodies,” she said. “Your common sense tells you that being molested is something you never forget, ever.”

But Menninger defended the testimony of the memory expert, citing instances in which Maxwell’s accusers never mentioned the defendant’s name when they first spoke of the abuse they endured from Epstein.

She said the testimony from accusers was manipulated by lawyers representing them as they pursued millions of dollars in payouts from a special fund set up after Epstein’s suicide to compensate his victims.

Menninger said the women suddenly “recovered memories that Ghislaine was there.”

Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Palm Beach County in July 2008. He admitted he hired local underage girls to provide sex and erotic massages at his home. His sentence has been referred to as a “sweetheart deal” that allowed him lenient work release while he served about 13 months of an 18-month sentence, followed by a year of house arrest.

An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement focused on former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer’s decision not to aggressively prosecute sex abuse allegations against Epstein over a decade ago; Epstein’s generous work release privileges in jail; and allegations that Epstein had sex with young women while under the jail’s supervision. The investigation found Epstein received “differential treatment” in jail, but no evidence was uncovered that suggests county officials broke any laws.

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