On Monday, opening arguments began in the widely anticipated federal trial of accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, the notorious British socialite who allegedly helped disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein commit a dizzying array of abusive and exploitative acts toward multiple women and girls, including one as young as 14.
Epstein, 66, died of apparent suicide during his incarceration at a federal prison in New York City while facing a potential prison sentence of up to 45 years on charges of pedophilia and sex trafficking.
The Maxwell trial could be a last-ditch opportunity for the government to secure a conviction for the crimes of Epstein, in effect making this the trial that he prevented from ever occurring.
“The shadow of Epstein is going to loom large here,” former federal judge Moira Penza told the New York Times. “The case is obviously going to be about Maxwell, but he’s going to be right at the center of it as well.”
Early Monday, jury selection drew to a close.
The trial won’t be broadcast on television or online, while attendees will be prevented from broadcasting or photographing the trial, reports NPR.
Maxwell, 59, faces charges of grooming multiple minors to engage in illegal sex acts with Epstein, her ex-boyfriend, and sex-trafficking a minor. The indictment accuses the British media heiress of conspiracy, including recruiting one of her partner’s victims to help recruit other girls to be paid to undergo abuse at the hands of Epstein.
On Monday, prosecutors depicted Maxwell, who circulated in wealthy and powerful circles in the U.K. and U.S., as the mastermind of a sadistic sex trafficking gang that preyed on teenage girls. U.S. Attorneys have alleged that over the span of at least 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, she “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse” the girls and young women.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, while her multiple attempts to be released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, have all been shot down.
Prosecutor Laura Pomerantz said Monday that Maxwell was a key component in Epstein’s “pyramid scheme of abuse” and criminal sex acts carried out under the color of respectability, reports BBC.
Pomerantz noted that one accuser befriended by the pair was promised bright opportunities in the future.
Prosecutors will call on witnesses including four alleged victims and experts on sexual abuse and those who can inform the jury about the credibility of the couple’s victims, including those who may not have been aware that they suffered abuse at the time.
Experts say that the prosecution will have their work cut out for them and must refrain from making the trial center too much on Epstein’s crimes rather than those of his alleged co-conspirator Maxwell.
Maxwell’s defense will also have to convince the 12-person jury that she was an unwitting player in Epstein’s game, likely by delving into the details of the deceased criminal’s dealings at the top levels of philanthropy, academia, politics, and high finance.
On Monday, the defense protested Maxwell being held liable for Epstein’s crimes and depicted her situation as being one where “memory, manipulation and money” play crucial roles.
However, federal attorneys have pushed back at the idea that she was a victim of Epstein, as opposed to a willing accomplice.
“The government’s yearslong investigation has not developed any evidence that the defendant was victimized in any way by Jeffrey Epstein,” read court papers that were recently filed by the government.
Prosecutors are expected to draw on Maxwell’s so-called “black book,” which meticulously recorded the friends and contacts of Epstein. The FBI gained possession of the book in 2019 when Epstein’s former butler tried to sell it. The government is confident that the book contains “compelling evidence of her guilt,” according to court filings.
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