© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Defense Attorney Bobbi Sternheim points to Ghislaine Maxwell standing next to Jeffrey Pagliuca during a pre-trial hearing on trafficking charges, in a sketch in a courtroom in New York, USA, November 23, 2021. REUTERS / Jane Rosenberg / F
Luc Cohen and Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A jury was sworn in on Monday for the sexual assault trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of recruiting and grooming underage girls for Jeffrey Epstein, the late, disgraced financier.
Between 1994 and 2004, Maxwell – Epstein’s former employee and romantic partner – allegedly sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with girls to gain their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages, according to the indictment against from 2021.
Maxwell, 59, pleaded not guilty to eight charges of trafficking in sex and other crimes, including two counts of perjury to be tried later. Maxwell, who appeared in court wearing a white face mask in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts of the indictment.
Twelve jurors and six deputies were sworn in to hear the case, which is expected to last six weeks. Introductory remarks will begin Monday afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan thanked jurors for their patience as she tackled problems with two of them at the last minute.
“You have to have an open mind until the trial is over,” Nathan told the jury. “You shouldn’t draw any conclusions until you have all the evidence in front of you.”
NO FISH FOR FRIING
Maxwell’s lawyers said prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, were using the daughter of the late British media mogul Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat. Epstein died of suicide at the age of 66 in 2019 in a prison cell in Manhattan while awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse.
“Left without a fish to try to bake, the government belatedly approached Ms. Maxwell,” her lawyers wrote in a February 4 submission.
The Maxwell trial comes after the #MeToo movement, which encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men such as film producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R. Kelly accused of misconduct. The case against Maxwell stands out in part because she is a woman.
Prosecutors said Maxwell encouraged the girls to massage Epstein while they were completely or partially naked. In some cases, Epstein or Maxwell would pay them in cash or offer to pay for their travel or schooling, and Epstein sometimes masturbated or touched the genitals of the girls during the massage, prosecutors said.
“The victims felt obligated and believed that Maxwell and Epstein were trying to help them,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment. In some cases, Maxwell “was present and participated in the sexual abuse of juvenile victims,” they said.
Maxwell’s lawyers indicated that they would question the credibility of the four alleged victims, asking why they waited to appear and claiming that they had a financial incentive to lie or exaggerate.
“Any prosecutor who testifies that Ms. Maxwell was involved in sexual abuse or sex trafficking is not telling the truth,” Maxwell’s lawyers wrote in court documents.
One woman was motivated by a “desire for cash,” they said in a separate submission.
Defense expert – psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who testified in favor of the defense at the trial for rape of film producer Harvey Weinstein and the trial for the murder of real estate heir Robert Durst – is expected to testify about how people can be manipulated to have “false memories”. ”
Some legal experts said the strategy was risky and that prosecutors would not have accused Maxwell unless they were convinced the plaintiffs’ testimony would stand the test.
“Shaming victims … doesn’t work especially now in 2021 and it usually hurts you,” said Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, a New York City defense attorney who specializes in sex crime cases.