Trigger warning: This article contains information about sexual assault which may be triggering for some. Please read with caution and exercise self-care.
One of the most anticipated trials of a generation has come to a startling conclusion. The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell wrapped up after its fourth week, revealing a slew of eye-watering accusations and revelations into the sordid world of Jeffery Epstein and his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell.
On 30 December, Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six charges she was facing and is awaiting an expectedly long sentencing.
The trial, which was set to continue into January, is just the first — but certainly the most high profile — of the string of legal cases that Maxwell is contending with for her part in allegations of sexual assault, human trafficking and the abuse of minors between 1994 and 2004.
Proceedings in the courtroom were described as the “cocktail party from hell” as the wealthy socialite attempted to outspend and overpower the legal claims of the prosecution. The defence claimed that she was both entirely ignorant of what was going on and that nothing untoward ever went on when she spent years at the right hand of Epstein, living as his “lady of the house” in his various mansions across the US and the Caribbean.
Four women took the stand, all of whom claim to have been abused by both Epstein and Maxwell when they were as young as 14. In addition, there numerous witnesses and staff members who were employed by the pair at the time also testified.
In a battle over truth and the seeking of justice, the Maxwell family have a history of managing to escape legal penalties. However. the money and the glamour did not enable Ghislaine to escape this time. She has now been convicted of being an accomplice to one of the most villainous and wealthy men of the 21st century. Here’s everything you need to know about what happened during the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell.
Eve or Siren?
“Ever since Eve has been blamed for tempting Adam with an apple, women have been blamed for things men have done… She is not Jeffrey Epstein. She is not anything like Jeffrey Epstein.”
This line made up part of the opening statement of Maxwell’s defence from lawyer Bobbi Sternheim. The defence rests upon a mixture of false memory accusations and claims of ‘gold digging’ by the alleged victims. Epstein’s estate set up a fund to compensate the victims of crimes he had been charged with in the past and the suggestion here is that the more vicious and depraved the victims can make their experiences seem, the more money they’ll be granted.
On the other side, the prosecution is claiming that Maxwell was a wanton and knowing contributor in facilitating a revolving door of young and vulnerable women — most of whom should really be referred to as girls — to Epstein.
“Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18,” the charges read.
Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz told the court that Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused.” The prosecutor said that she lured them in with promises of a bright future and financial support “only to sexually exploit them”.
The 59-year old British socialite has always denied the claims and stands to spend the rest of her life behind bars if she is convicted.
She Said, She Said
What is somewhat surprising in this case is that, for a man often accused of keeping meticulous records and using them to blackmail those he came into contact with, none of the evidence rests on anything tangible like audio or physical recordings of the alleged crimes.
Much of the trial has so far come down to simple testimony, something that has been artfully manipulated by Maxwell’s lawyers. Consisting of a team of mainly young women, the legal assaults of the defence have been damning and traumatising for the victims.
The first woman to take the stand, known as ‘Jane’, describes meeting Maxwell and Epstein at an arts summer camp in Michigan when she was just 14. Her family was struggling financially and she had dreams of being a singer. Maxwell told her they were benefactors of the camp and would award scholarships to the attendees. Befriending Jane, the prosecutors allege that Maxwell would buy gifts and discuss sexual topics with her which amounts to grooming. Eventually, Epstein made his move on the girl.
“He just took my hand and said, ‘Follow me’,” before taking her to his pool house and pulling down his pants,” Jane said.
“He pulled me on top of himself and proceeded to masturbate on me. I was terrified and felt gross and I felt ashamed. I was frozen in fear, I had never seen a penis before.”
Maxwell’s attorney, Laura Menninger, asked Jane why she hadn’t come forward before Epstein’s death, pushing her on why she hadn’t spoken to friends or family before now. Jane was asked to clarify details over and over, with the defence making much of the fact that the woman is now a successful actor who has played victims and “prostitutes” before. Questioning ended with the woman in tears.
Another alleged victim, ‘Kate’, who gave testimony on day six of the trial, claims that Maxwell instructed her to bring tea to Epstein wearing a schoolgirls outfit and would instruct her on how to massage Epstein. She told her that Epstein was “demanding” and “needed to have sex about three times a day,” adding that Kate was one of his “favourites”.
The defence honed in on the fact that Kate has used alcohol, cocaine, and sleeping pills since the events and that this might have affected her memory. They also suggest that, as a British citizen, Kate is working with prosecutors to secure an American visa reserved for victims of abuse.
“I Wish They Had Complained”
It’s not just women on the stand at the Maxwell trial. The first witness called to testify was Epstein’s former pilot, Larry Visoski. He recalled flying passengers like Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Kevin Spacy, Donald Trump, and Robert F Kennedy to and from Epstein’s gatherings on his private Boeing 727 nicknamed the “Lolita Express.”
Visoski confirmed that he sometimes saw young girls travelling on the plane with Epstein, including Jane, but that he “never saw any sexual activity” on the flights. That may have been because the cockpit was separated from the rest of the plane by another door that was always closed. Visoski, however, claims that Epstein never demanded the door to be shut and that the pilots were welcome to walk through to the bathroom as and when they wished.
Epstein’s former butler at his house in Palm Beach, Florida, also took the stand. Juan Alessi identified Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of the most famous and outspoken of Epstein’s victims, as well as Jane, as having been at the house. He claimed that Maxwell had given him a 58-page booklet on household etiquette that covered every aspect of behaviour around Epstein. Girls were instructed never to eat or drink in front of him and to never talk unless directly spoken to.
“Mr Epstein doesn’t like to be looked at in his eyes. Never look at his eyes, look in another part of the room and answer him,” Alessi alleges that Maxwell told him.
When questioned as to why any of the girls he was instructed to drive to and from the house ever complained about their treatment, Alessi replied that he “wished they had complained.”
“Then I could have done something about it.”
Picking Up the Pace
There are concerns that the prosecution is “fumbling the case” as news emerges that the team plan to rest their case on Friday. For a trial that was set to last several weeks, it now appears that the whole thing could be wrapped up a lot sooner than expected, with fears over the outcome and the conviction of Maxwell.
Vanity Fair reports that the girls allegedly abused by Maxwell and Epstein “have appeared unprepared for cross-examination” and that the team have made a raft of missteps in failing to call alleged high-profile conspirators to testify.
On Tuesday, a third accuser going by the name ‘Carolyn’ took the stand and testified that Maxwell had arranged for her to massage Epstein when she was 14, taking advantage of her families difficult financial situation to lure her in.
“I was fully nude and she came in and she felt my boobs and my hips and my buttocks and said that … I had a great body for Mr Epstein and his friends,” she said. “I told her I was 14.”
Carolyn reports that she was left with her soul “broken” after the incidents and has since moved to Australia.
Prosecutors, however, did not follow up and ask her to name Epstein’s friends and the defence attacked her for not mentioning Maxwell in a 2007 interview with the FBI and a 2009 civil suit in which she was awarded USD $3.25 million.
“Money will not ever fix what that woman has done to me,” Carolyn said, sobbing.
It’s not uncommon for victims of abuse to change their story as they remember and process new details, however, it, unfortunately, doesn’t play out well in court.
The prosecution has also not called many of the other witnesses and victims who could attest to Maxwell’s importance in facilitating the abuse carried out by Epstein. With over 500 days to prepare a case against her, it appears that the government has failed to mount a robust one.
The Prosecution Rests
Rumours that the prosecution would rest their case after just two weeks proved to be correct as that’s exactly what happened on Friday after just 10 days.
The prosecution has been marred by difficulties, including the fact that two witnesses were over the age of 18 at the time and therefore their experiences were ruled not to have been illegal. However, with the weight of evidence the state has against her, it’s not impossible that the court won’t find her guilty.
Annie Farmer, the only one of the four women to take the stand under her real name, gave testimony similar to that of the previous three women in which she identified Maxwell as an accomplice in the crimes of Epstein when she was 16.
She noted that Maxwell “instructed” her on how to massage him and forced her to undress while he watched.
“I did what she told me,” Farmer said. “I felt very uncomfortable. I wanted to stop.”
Farmer is one of the more outspoken of Epstein’s victims and appears in the documentary Filthy Rich alongside her sister who worked for Epstein as an art buyer. She now has a PhD in educational psychology and appeared confident on the stand as the defence attempted to pick apart her testimony.
Farmer said that although Maxwell and Epstein had not actually raped her, their behaviour was “all a pattern of them working on confusing my boundaries” with the intention of sexually abusing her. Her statement’s fit the pattern of grooming and involvement that the prosecution is trying to paint of Maxwell while the defence tries to position her as a scapegoat for the actions of someone who can no longer face justice.
The Defence Presents Why Maxwell Should Be Cleared
Court resumed on Thursday, December 16. The defence took its turn to present its own evidence to the court as to why Maxwell should be cleared of all charges. She has pled not guilty and the theme of their case appears to be ‘money, memory, and motivation’ in the attack of the prosecution.
It’s expected that they will take at least two weeks to outline their case. Maxwell herself is unlikely to take the stand and it’s thought that, given the nature of their close relationship, simply denying that Maxwell had knowledge of what Epstein was doing is unlikely to work. Therefore, the defence will aim to deconstruct the testimony and charges against their client, presenting the evidence and the words of these women as unreliable.
It’s been a difficult two weeks for the victims who have taken the stand and been forced to relive past trauma, often to the point of tears. That is likely to continue as the trial carries on.
The Defence Puts Memory On Trial
On the opening day of Maxwell’s defence, her legal team called upon false memories expert Dr Elizabeth Loftus to attempt to discredit the accounts of the survivors.
Loftus is a professor of psychology at the University of California and apparently the go-to expert witness in sexual abuse cases. She has testified for the defence in the trials of Ted Bundy, Robert Durst, OJ Simpson, and Harvey Weinstein.
She told the jury that people can have “false memories” of traumatic events and that they “can be subjected to post-event suggestion,” playing into the idea that the women in question have retroactively constructed their versions of events, something the defence is hoping to rely upon.
“[Memory] doesn’t work like a recording device,” she said. “We are actually constructing our memories while we retrieve memories.”
However, Loftus conceded under cross-examination that, while “peripheral memories” from a traumatic event may be forgotten, the event’s “core memories” may in fact get stronger.
Rolling Stone has reported that Lisa Bloom, an attourney who has found herself opposite Loftus in many child abuse cases, believes Loftus’s testimoney might not be the silver bullet the defence is hoping that it is.
“Memory is malleable; it’s not a snapshot,” she said. “It’s not perfect. But it doesn’t have to be. It only has to be that the essence of what the accusers are saying is true. They may get a date wrong. They may get a detail wrong. But if the essence is true and can be believed, then the prosecution can get a conviction.”
The defence team has said that they may rest their case by Monday, meaning the trial is likely to wrap up far soon than expected.
Jurors Begin Deliberation
As predicted, the defence rested its case on Monday, December 20, bringing to a close a trial that was expected to last six weeks in the space of just four.
Ghislaine Maxwell is a “sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing,” said Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe. “She ran the same playbook again and again and again.”
“Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit,” countered defence lawyer Laura Menninger. She repeated the claim that Maxwell is simply being scapegoated for the crime of Epstein who can no longer face justice.
Jurors began deliberations on Monday and are returning Tuesday to continue their discussions. Judge Nathan said that jurors may choose to convict Maxwell if they conclude that she either ignored or “consciously avoided” knowledge of Epstein’s underage sexual assaults.
The court won’t sit on the 23 and 24 of December, meaning that they could reach a verdict by tomorrow. If they do, the trial will wrap up by Christmas Day, which also happens to be Maxwell’s 60th birthday.
Maxwell Found Guilty on Five Counts
There was concern that the case may be dragged on until January however, on the morning of 30 December, the jury pronounced Maxwell guilty on five of the six charges she was facing.
The news comes as huge relief to the survivors, four of whom testified during the trial.
In a statement, US attorney Damien Williams said that “The road to justice has been far too long, but today justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls, now grown women, who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom”.
“Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made today’s result in this case possible.
“This office will always stand with victims, will always follow the facts wherever they lead, and will always fight to ensure that no-one, no matter how powerful or well-connected is above the law.”
Maxwell will likely face decades in prison. Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors carried a maximum charge of 40 years while the other charges carry potential sentences of five to 10 years.
There has been no date set for the sentencing and Maxwell has been returned to her cell in prison to await the recall to court. She will also have to face trial for two outstanding perjury charges relating to a 2016 case. It’s overwhelmingly likely that the 60-year-old will die behind bars.
If this story has brought up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.