NEW YORK, Dec.29 (Reuters) – Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on Wednesday by a U.S. jury of helping late financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually assault teenage girls, sealing a remarkable fall from grace for the British socialite.
Maxwell, 60, has been accused of recruiting and preparing four teenagers between 1994 and 2004 for Epstein, her ex-boyfriend who committed suicide in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on his own charges of sexual abuse.
She was convicted of five of the six counts, including one count of sex trafficking. His lawyers did not immediately respond to whether or not they would appeal. Maxwell faces up to 65 years in prison in his yet to be determined sentencing process.
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Maxwell’s trial was widely regarded as the calculation Epstein never had and one of the most publicized cases following the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out against sexual abuse by people. famous and powerful.
During the month-long trial, jurors heard emotional and explicit testimony from four women who described Maxwell as central to their abuse by Epstein. Three in four said Maxwell herself touched their topless breasts or participated in the meetings, which often began with massages.
Maxwell’s lawyers sought to undermine the credibility of the women, arguing they were money-motivated to involve Maxwell since all four had received million-dollar rewards from a victim’s compensation fund of Epstein.
But the women took issue with these characterizations, saying they decided to testify out of a desire for justice, not money.
“Money will never fix what this woman did to me,” testified a woman, known by her first name Carolyn, who said Maxwell had already touched her bare breasts and buttocks as she prepared to massage Epstein at the age of 14 in 2002.
Carolyn’s case was at the heart of the sex trafficking charge, as she said Maxwell sometimes hands her hundreds of dollars in cash after giving Epstein erotic massages. Epstein masturbated during dating at his Palm Beach, Florida estate, Carolyn testified.
The jury deliberated for five full days before delivering its verdict.
After the verdict was read, Maxwell, dressed in a burgundy turtleneck, poured himself a glass of water. Defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca patted her upper back. An expressionless Maxwell briefly watched two siblings seated in the front row as she left the courtroom.
Maxwell will return to the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, where she has been held in solitary confinement since July 2020. Maxwell has raised concerns about her treatment at the prison, saying the guards disrupted her sleep at night and that the stench of raw sewage permeated his cell.
Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim has asked U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan after the verdict is read to ensure Maxwell receives his COVID-19 booster vaccine. Nathan said the shot was available at the MDC and that she would look into the matter.
‘PATH TO JUSTICE’
Conditions at the MDC are a far cry from the opulence to which Maxwell, a daughter of British press baron Robert Maxwell, had been accustomed for most of her life.
Her father founded a publishing house and owned tabloids including the Daily Mirror. He was found dead on his yacht near the Canary Islands in 1991. Maxwell dated Epstein for several years in the 1990s, when the couple attended high society parties and traveled in luxury private jets.
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors bank records showing that Epstein had paid Maxwell millions of dollars over the years. They said Maxwell was motivated to do whatever it takes to keep Epstein happy in order to maintain his luxurious lifestyle.
Maxwell’s lawyers have argued prosecutors are scapegoating her because Epstein was no longer alive.
“Epstein’s death left a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice for many of these women,” said Maxwell’s attorney, Bobbi Sternheim. “She fills this hole and fills this empty chair.”
But prosecutors responded by describing Maxwell as Epstein’s “criminal partner”.
“Ghislaine Maxwell made her own choices. She committed crimes hand in hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing,” said US Deputy Prosecutor Alison Moe.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, applauded the verdict in a statement that Maxwell was convicted of “one of the worst crimes imaginable.”
“The road to justice has been far too long,” the statement said. “But, today, justice has been served. I want to salute the bravery of the girls – now adult women – who stepped out of the shadows and entered the courtroom.”
Epstein’s arrest and suicide drew attention to Maxwell’s role in his abuse, and the financier’s dealings with figures such as former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Britain’s Prince Andrew and the billionaire investor Leon Black.
None have been charged with crimes related to Epstein.
The prince, a former friend of Epstein’s, is defending himself against a civil lawsuit in Manhattan claiming he sexually abused Virginia Giuffre, another of Epstein’s accusers. Andrew has denied his claims.
“IT DIDN’T SEEM NORMAL”
During the trial, prosecutors presented the jury with a green massage table that was seized in Epstein’s Florida estate in 2005, supporting descriptions of the massages by the women.
The only charge Maxwell was acquitted of – inducing a minor to travel for the purpose of unlawful sexual activity – carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The charge involved a woman known by the pseudonym Jane, who testified that she was 14 when Epstein first abused her in 1994.
Jane said she often visits Epstein’s home in New Mexico and New York City, where some abuse has taken place, and that Maxwell sometimes helps coordinate his trip.
Maxwell sometimes participated in his sex with Epstein and acted like it was normal, Jane said.
“It made me confused because it didn’t feel right to me,” Jane said. “I had never seen anything like it or felt anything like it.”
Despite the not guilty verdict on that count, the jury seemed to find other aspects of Jane’s story credible. They convicted Maxwell of transporting a minor to travel for illegal sex acts, another count which only concerned Jane.
Moe said in argument that Maxwell’s presence made young girls feel comfortable around Epstein. Otherwise, receiving an invitation to hang out with a middle-aged man would have seemed “scary” and “sounding the alarm bells,” Moe said.
“Epstein couldn’t have done it alone,” she said.
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Reporting by Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel Editing by Noeleen Walder, Alistair Bell and Grant McCool
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