Epstein victim, Ghislaine Maxwell sister arrive at court for sex-trafficking trial
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One of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims and Ghislaine Maxwell’s sister arrived at a Manhattan courthouse Monday as the disgraced socialite’s highly anticipated sex-trafficking trial got underway.
The first order of business was to finalize jury selection — picking the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear the sensational case — with opening statements expected to follow later in the day.
The start of Maxwell’s long-awaited trial drew a mass of media to the Lower Manhattan courthouse. Alleged Epstein victim Sarah Ransome, attorney Lisa Bloom and Maxwell’s sister Isabel were also spotted arriving. Bloom represents some Epstein victims.
Maxwell, who has been in custody since her arrest last year, was hauled into court in a white sweater.
If convicted on all counts, Maxwell faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison — effectively a life sentence for the 59-year-old, who has been jailed in a Brooklyn lockup since her arrest.
Maxwell faces six counts for allegedly recruiting, grooming and abusing four minor girls with Epstein at multiple locations in the US and the UK from 1994 through 2004.
Her crimes included engaging in “group sexual encounters” with Epstein and an underage girl — identified in court documents as “Minor Victim-1” — from 1994 to 1997, prosecutors charge in the indictment against her.
With each victim, she allegedly encouraged the girls to provide Epstein with massages that would escalate into sexual abuse. During massages with Minor Victim-1, for example, the teen and Maxwell would both “engage in sex acts with Epstein,” the indictment states.
The crimes she’s accused of are sensational and will spark an emotional reaction among jurors before evidence in the case is presented, legal experts told The Post. It’s one of the reasons the cards are stacked against Maxwell at trial — and why prosecutors may win a conviction, the experts added.
But just how the trial will play out — and if Maxwell will take the stand in her own defense — remain up in the air. Legal experts and experienced trial attorneys who spoke to The Post described potential pitfalls Maxwell’s legal team could face at trial — as well as strategies that may win her favor with the jury in their final bid to spring the disgraced socialite from behind bars.
In their opening statement, prosecutors will likely explain the charges against her without exaggerating or overperforming, said former assistant US attorney and experienced trial lawyer Gene Rossi.
“I expect them to be very cautious but firm — strategic, but not inflammatory. They will underpromise yet overperform at trial,” Rossi said of the Southern District of New York prosecutors.
“The charges themselves speak volumes,” he added. “Anytime you have underage sex trafficking, that charge alone inflames passions and biases of any jury.”
The potential biases of jurors could actually work in Maxwell’s favor — not least because of her gender, said Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School.
“Juries are often sympathetic to women defendants generally, and if they can paint her as a type of victim of Epstein as well, that might work in their favor in this regard,” she said.
But at the same time, her gender could be a pitfall for the defense team, Rodgers added.
“Jurors might not like that she was a woman helping abuse young girls,” she said.
“The very fact that she was a woman likely made the victims trust her more, possibly leading to more and more serious abuse than would otherwise have occurred, so this sort of betrayal of her sex might offend at least some of the jurors,” Rodgers added.
Her defense attorneys may run into similar landmines with the jury if they attempt to paint her as a victim, the experts added.
Maxwell, 59, was born in France and raised in luxury as the daughter of media tycoon Robert Maxwell, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1991.
After her father’s death, Maxwell developed a persona in the British and American media as a wealthy socialite, who built relationships with powerful men across the globe, in part because of her romantic involvement with Epstein.
Maxwell and Epstein socialized — and were photographed with — Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and numerous other businessmen, politicians and media figures. An Epstein accuser, Virginia Giuffre, has claimed she was trafficked by Epstein to the powerful men in his orbit, including Prince Andrew. The British royal denies the allegation.
This “charmed” lifestyle that Maxwell led could make the argument that she’s actually a victim of Epstein a tough pill to swallow for the jury, Rossi said.
“She’s a socialite on steroids,” he said. “She’s an intelligent, mature, forceful woman, flying around the world on private jets, staying in fancy hotels.
“I don’t think the theory that she is being used is going to play well. I think that would insult the intelligence of the jury,” he added.
But her defense team could paint her as the victim of federal prosecutors who twice failed to exact justice on sexual predator Epstein.
Epstein killed himself in 2019 in a Lower Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges brought by the same prosecutors’ office that arrested Maxwell.
Until his bust in 2019, Epstein had escaped federal prosecution for sex trafficking because of a non-prosecution agreement he inked with the Justice Department in 2008. The deal secretly settled a probe that included 40 underage girls, and Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida and served just 13 months in prison.
Since Maxwell’s arrest, her attorneys have argued repeatedly that she’s a scapegoat to the Justice Department and was arrested because the feds failed to bring Epstein to trial.
It’s an argument that longtime celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos said he expects to be raised in Maxwell’s case.
“There’s been kind of a shift from Epstein the monster to Maxwell the mastermind. The cynic in me thinks the defense will point that out,” Geragos told The Post.
“Cynically, if Epstein was still alive, I don’t think you would have seen this shift,” he added.
Maxwell has maintained her innocence since her arrest and has appealed numerous times to be released on bail from the Brooklyn federal lockup where she’s being held.
Her lawyers have argued repeatedly in court filings that she’s subject to horrific conditions in the Metropolitan Detention Center, including sexual abuse by guards during daily pat-down searches.
The conditions of her incarceration would make her decision to testify at trial especially risky, Geragos added.
“She’s in custody, by all accounts, in a deplorable situation. That can be mentally debilitating,” he said. “You’re up against a very skilled prosecutor who slept in their own bed, who’s well-fed, who got rest. On the stand, it’s a mental jiu-jitsu for the client. She’s already, from a psychical and mental standpoint, at a disadvantage.”
If Maxwell does take the stand, which is her decision, it will likely make or break the trial for her, Jennifer Rodgers added.
“In any case where the defendant testifies, it tends to become the focal point for the jury, and if she doesn’t do well, it will be devastating to her case,” she told The Post.
In an interview with the Associated Press published Friday, Maxwell’s brother, Ian Maxwell, said her trial has been exaggerated in the media and designed to “break” her.
It’s “the most over-hyped trial of the century without a doubt,” Ian Maxwell said.
“This is designed to break her; I can’t see any other way to read it. … And she will not be broken because she believes completely in her innocence and she is going to give the best account she can,” he continued.
If there are any fireworks at the trial, they’re likely to come in the prosecutors’ closing statement, said Gene Rossi.
“They’ll stick to charges in the opening, then in closing they can go full throttle and give a full-court press,” he said. “Closings could be Armageddon.”