Elizabeth Williams / AP
The first witnesses to the trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell appeared this week in a federal courtroom in Manhattan.
Maxwell, 59, is accused of recruiting girls and even participating in sexual abuse by convicted financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in custody in 2019. She is charged with several counts, including trafficking in minors.
It’s a case that has gained worldwide attention, in part because of the powerful and famous men who have been linked to Epstein.
The high-profile trial swarmed with media and curious spectators. It also attracted many opportunists in and out of the courtroom, with people taking the opportunity to complain about Covid-19 vaccines, brag about their YouTube following, or denounce the “courts. satanic “.
The first accuser takes the witness stand
Both parties have been quiet on the witness list. Four accusers, all now adults, are expected to testify in what is expected to be a 6-week trial. The first woman, an actress known by the pseudonym “Jane”, spoke on Tuesday.
Jane was moved when she testified that the abuse by Epstein and Maxwell began at the age of 14. She told the court that Epstein and Maxwell first approached her at a summer camp for the arts in Michigan, for which Epstein was a donor. The abuse lasted until she was 16, Jane said, and Maxwell was often in the room when it happened. She explained that she felt terrified and ashamed, and said she had carried this shame throughout her life.
A former boyfriend of Jane testified on Wednesday using the alias “Matt”. He recalled how when they were dating Jane told him about a “godfather” who has helped her family financially and how she said, “Matt, the money wasn’t fucking free.” He also recounted a fight between Jane and her mother, in which Jane shouted, “How do you think I got the money, Mom?”
The longtime Epstein pilot said on Tuesday that Jane was among the passengers on the financier’s private plane. Larry Visoski also said other guests included former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as Britain’s Prince Andrew and the late Senator John Glenn.
Epstein and Maxwell’s most prominent accuser, Virginia Giuffre, is not expected to testify. Giuffre said she was 17 when Epstein and Maxwell started taking her around the world to have sex with politicians, royals and billionaires. In a May 2016 deposition, she said Maxwell ordered her to have sex with Prince Andrew and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, among others. Andrew has publicly denied the accusations, and a Richardson spokesperson told NPR that “the accusations are completely false.”
A matter of “memory, manipulation and money”
In his opening remarks, Maxwell’s attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, said the case was about “memory, manipulation and money.” And the defense questioned witnesses during cross-examination about their ability to accurately remember events that occurred some 20 years ago.
Maxwell’s team also asked why the accusers waited to come forward. During Jane’s cross-examination, the defense confronted Jane with the fact that she had been silent for so many years, only to hire a personal injury lawyer as the charges against Epstein and Maxwell were made public.
Jane replied that the delay stemmed from the victim’s shame who is still part of coming out as a sexual abuse survivor, adding that this is also why she chose to remain anonymous.
An expert witness for the prosecution, psychologist Lisa Rocchio, said survivors talk about their experiences when they feel safe.
Maxwell is a silent presence in the courtroom
Glaring absence in much of the defense so far: plenty of mention of Maxwell. The bulk of their cross-examinations focused on Epstein.
The financier, 66, was arrested in July 2019 and held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He was awaiting trial for child sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy when he was found dead in his cell the following month. His death was qualified as suicide.
Epstein’s presence is omnipresent during Maxwell’s trial, despite his pale figure sitting at the end of the defense table. His team’s strategy so far appears to be to downplay Maxwell’s role in Epstein’s life.
But the prosecution made it clear that Maxwell was an integral part of Epstein’s life. On Thursday, a former home manager and driver at Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. Spoke. Juan Alessi said he had worked at the estate for nearly a dozen years, describing Maxwell as “the lady of the house”. She was with Epstein 95% of the time he was there, Alessi noted. She called the shots into the house.
Alessi said he was also responsible for booking many of Epstein’s massages, noting: “It’s gradually gone from one massage per day to three.” During her testimony, Jane said that she was repeatedly asked to sexually massage Epstein and that Maxwell explained to her what Epstein liked.
During cross-examination, the defense asked Alessi if he had ever seen any signs of strain or injury during these massages. Has anyone ever asked him for help or told him he is distressed? “No, they never did,” he replied. “But I wish they had done it because I would have done something to stop it.”