Ghislaine Maxwell set not to testify in sex trafficking trial
The jury in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell is expected to hear closing arguments on Monday after defence lawyers said they only have a few remaining witnesses and could finish presenting their case on Friday.
Maxwell, 59, was not among the remaining defence witnesses identified by lawyers when US District Judge Alison Nathan asked who remained to be called to the witness stand after testimony ended for the day on Thursday.
The defence began presenting its case earlier in the day as a former office worker for financier Jeffrey Epstein testified that she did not witness misconduct by Maxwell while working closely with her for six years.
“Never,” Cimberly Espinosa, 55, responded when asked if she ever saw Maxwell or Epstein “engaged in any misbehaviour”.
Ms Espinosa also testified about seeing a key accuser in the case — who testified for the government as “Jane” to protect her privacy — visiting Epstein’s New York City office on Madison Avenue “a few times” in the late 1990s. She said Jane’s mother had told workers she was Epstein’s goddaughter.
Because of that “she was treated with utmost respect”, Ms Espinosa said. Jane’s interactions with Epstein gave her the impression “it was a loving relationship”, she added.
Ms Espinosa told the jury in Manhattan federal court she assisted Maxwell in managing Epstein’s multiple high-end properties between 1996 and 2002.
“I looked up to her very much,” she said.
When defence attorney Christian Everdell finished his questioning, Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz tried to convince jurors that Ms Espinosa was an irrelevant witness by asking her only whether she had ever worked at any of Epstein’s homes.
When Espinosa said she had not, Ms Pomerantz said she had no other questions.
The defence case began after the jury heard four women detail accusations, including Jane, that they were teenagers when they became victims of a sex-abuse scheme devised by Maxwell and Epstein. The British socialite’s lawyers are expected to make their case that Maxwell is not the one to blame.
The government’s case lasted only two weeks and the defence indicated that it could finish on Friday or possibly spill into early Monday.
Both sides streamlined their witness lists without revealing why, making the trial end well short of an original six-week estimate.
The start of the defence case had already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile defendant would take the witness stand in her own defence — a gamble that is almost never taken.
With no mention of Maxwell considering testifying, the judge said she will seek direct confirmation from Maxwell on Friday about her decision before the defence can rest.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to charges she acted as Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse during sexual massages.
Maxwell was once Epstein’s girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee. Witnesses testified the pair exploited them between 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s homes, including an estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his posh Manhattan townhouse and a New Mexico ranch.
The defence has insisted that Maxwell is being made a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes by Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019.
Her lawyers have sought to show that the accusers exaggerated Maxwell’s involvement at the behest of lawyers seeking payouts for the women from civil claims against the Epstein estate.
The defence also tried on Thursday to show that the recollections by the women are flawed.
To support that argument, they relied on testimony from cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has for decades studied false, repressed and unreliable memories. Ms Loftus also testified last year at Harvey Weinstein’s New York City rape trial.
Maxwell’s lawyers are trying to cast doubts about the women’s allegations after using cross-examination to highlight inconsistencies in some of their accounts. In some cases, the encounters the women were recalling happened more than two decades ago.
As memories fade, Ms Loftus said, people become more vulnerable to “post-event” information, including media reports that can distort what they remember.
People can grow attached to false memories in a way that “they can be confident about them, they can be emotional about them, even when they’re false”, she added.
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