Ghislaine Maxwell ‘preyed on vulnerable young girls’, trial hears

Prosecutors make opening arguments in trial of socialite charged with aiding Jeffrey Epstein abuse

Ghislaine Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes. Photograph: Rick Bajornas/AP

Ghislaine Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes. Photograph: Rick Bajornas/AP

 

Ghislaine Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused” by Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors said in their opening arguments in her much-awaited trial. “The defendant was trafficking kids for sex.”

“Maxwell was Epstein’s best friend and right hand,” said prosecutor Lara Pomerantz. “She was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life. The defendant and Epstein were partners in crime.”

But Ms Maxwell’s lawyer told the jury that the sex-abuse charges against the British socialite were for things that Epstein had done and that the memories of the accusers had been “manipulated”.

“The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein,” defence attorney Bobbi Sternheim said.

Ms Maxwell (59), the daughter of the late British press baron Robert Maxwell, has pleaded not guilty on six counts related to her alleged involvement in the late financier’s sexual abuse of teen girls, some as young as 14.

The indictment cites four accusers – referred to as Minor Victim-1, Minor Victim- 2, Minor Victim-3 and Minor Victim-4 – though it is believed more will take the stand.

Epstein took his own life in a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019, while awaiting trial. Ms Maxwell’s alleged crimes took place from 1994 to 2004, prosecutors have said.

In a New York court on Monday, Ms Maxwell wore a cream-coloured sweater and black pants. When she first walked into the courtroom around 8.30am local time, Ms Maxwell lifted her eyebrows and acknowledged her sister, who was seated in the first row. Ms Maxwell wrote throughout proceedings and at times passed notes to her attorneys, according to a pool report.

Throngs of media had gathered outside the courthouse before dawn, in hope of securing a much-coveted seat in court or a place in an overflow viewing room. An Epstein accuser, Sarah Ransome, arrived at the courthouse shortly before proceedings began, telling reporters: “I never thought this day would come.”

Jury selection

Openings arguments came after the final panel of 12 jurors and six alternates was selected. The panel seemed to be ethnically diverse. Many of the jurors and alternates also appeared to be from a younger demographic.

During the lunch break, which came before opening statements, a group gathered outside the courthouse for a purported rally against sex trafficking, though the comments were largely conspiratorial.

A speaker, using a megaphone, said Epstein “didn’t kill himself”. One attendee sported a red-and-white cap, similar to those worn by supporters of Donald Trump, that said the same thing.

Some attendees set up a tent to facilitate the distribution of stickers, some of which expressed sxepticism about Covid-19. One woman held a sign that read: “COVID IS NOT A PANDEMIC BUT A HUMAN TRAFFICKING” [issue], along with the words “Illegal Organ Harvesting”.

Authorities arrested Ms Maxwell on July 2nd, 2020 at a secretive, expensive estate in the small New Hampshire town of Bradford.

Audrey Strauss, acting Manhattan US attorney at the time, contended that Ms Maxwell “played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims” and that “in some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse”.

‘Normalising’ abuse

The indictment charges that Ms Maxwell “would try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein”.

The Manhattan US attorney has also accused Ms Maxwell of trying to cover up her involvement in Epstein’s crimes by providing untrue information “under oath” during civil litigation.

That lawsuit was the defamation case which Virginia Giuffre, a longtime Epstein accuser, brought against Ms Maxwell. Ms Giuffre has claimed Ms Maxwell and Epstein coerced her into sexual activity with Prince Andrew when she was 17.

Ms Giuffre sued Ms Maxwell, who called her a liar. Both Ms Maxwell and the Duke of York maintain their innocence. Ms Maxwell is charged with two counts related to the alleged lying. Those will be tried in a separate proceeding. – Guardian