As Ghislaine Maxwell's trial begins, Epstein's shadow grows

On the first floor of the Manhattan Federal Courthouse is an unusual art exhibit: framed illustrations of the courtrooms of terrorists, ...


On the first floor of the Manhattan Federal Courthouse is an unusual art exhibit: framed illustrations of the courtrooms of terrorists, gangsters and corrupt politicians with names like Yousef, Gotti and Silver who have all appeared. in front of judges there.

For a time, one of the most notorious faces on display, in a hallway near a room where prospective jurors meet, was that of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier and sex offender.

But during a recent hearing in the Ghislaine Maxwell case, whose trial for charges she helped Mr. Epstein recruit and finally the abuse of young girls begins on Monday, with the government and defense each asking that Mr Epstein’s photo be removed from the wall.

Judge Alison J. Nathan agreed to do so. But Mr. Epstein, who death by suicide more than two years ago, will not be erased so easily from the trial of Mrs. Maxwell, his longtime companion.

“The shadow of Epstein is going to loom here,” said Moira Penza, former Brooklyn federal prosecutor. “The case will obviously concern Maxwell, but he will also be at the center of it.”

Mrs. Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media mogul and a longtime figure in New York’s social scene, had been linked to Mr Epstein as a girlfriend and later helped him run his homes and its social relations.

Her lawyers now face the challenge of trying to disentangle her from the allegations against Mr Epstein – even perhaps portraying her as his victim, legal experts have said. But the government will also have to be cautious in front of the jury.

“Prosecutors will certainly want to paint a picture of Epstein as an evil man, as it is necessary for jurors to understand and be outraged by his role in the scheme,” said Arlo Devlin-Brown, a former federal corruption prosecutor. . in Manhattan.

“But they really have to walk a fine line,” he added, “between setting the scene and going too far – making the trial too much on Epstein and his conduct, and not enough on Maxwell.”

Mr Epstein, 66, was arrested on July 6, 2019 and accused of recruiting dozens of girls to engage in sex acts with him at his Manhattan mansion and estate in Palm Beach, Florida. He paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for each encounter, according to a federal indictment.

Just over a month later, Mr Epstein hanged himself in his jail cell while awaiting trial, the medical examiner ruled.

In announcing charges against Ms Maxwell in July 2020, prosecutors said she had been a critical enabler of Mr Epstein’s conduct.

“Maxwell attracted underage girls, made them trust him and then delivered them to the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein set,” said Audrey Strauss, then acting Manhattan lawyer in the United States.

Ms Maxwell’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment on behalf of her client, but at a recent hearing Ms Maxwell told Judge Nathan: “I have committed no crime.”

A federal indictment accused Ms Maxwell of making girls lower their defenses, befriending them by asking about their lives, schools and families and taking them to the movies and go shopping. The term “grooming”Describes a strategy used by predators in an attempt to break a potential victim’s resistance to abusive behavior.

Having developed a relationship with a victim, Ms Maxwell is said to try to normalize sexual abuse by discussing sexual matters, undressing in front of a victim, or being present for sexual acts involving the girl and Mr Epstein, depending on the act. charge.

He said her presence “helped put the victims at ease as an adult female was present.”

Ms Maxwell’s attorneys have not publicly discussed their trial strategy, but shortly after her arrest, when she unsuccessfully applied for bail, they wrote to Judge Nathan: “Sometimes the point is. simpler is the most critical: Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein. “

Rachel E. Barkow, professor of criminal law at New York University School of Law, said it would be a challenge for Ms Maxwell “to try to part with him somehow. and to argue that she is a different person and just because she has a relationship with him doesn’t mean guilt by association.

Ms Penza, who led the prosecution team that won the 2019 racketeering conviction of Keith Raniere, the leader of the sex sect Nxivm, said Ms Maxwell’s attorneys might try to suggest she was a victim of Mr Epstein, fearlessly blaming him that he could refute the claim – a sort of “empty chair” defense.

“You couldn’t have a bigger empty chair than in this case,” Ms. Penza said. “Everyone in the room will understand the fact that Epstein is not being tried and Maxwell is.”

Mr Devlin-Brown added that “the defense will have to be skillful in its portrayal of Epstein.” If his lawyers want to portray Ms Maxwell as a dupe, he said, they could focus on Mr Epstein’s “manipulative traits, his ability to charm and deceive leading figures in politics, academia and commercial”.

Prosecutors have already rejected a potential defense of Maxwell as a victim, calling such an argument “baseless” and asking his lawyers not to be able to do so without first showing the judge how they would prove it.

“The government’s years-long investigation has found no evidence that the accused was victimized in any way by Jeffrey Epstein,” the government recently wrote in little-known court documents.

Prosecutors said that even before presenting Ms Maxwell’s case to the grand jury, they listened to her defense attorneys present various arguments trying to dissuade them from charging her.

“At no time did the defense tell the government that Epstein had victimized the accused in any way,” prosecutors wrote.

And when prosecutors recently asked Ms Maxwell’s attorneys whether they plan to present such evidence at trial, “the defense attorney declined to answer,” the government said.

In a scathing response to the government’s claims, Ms Maxwell’s attorneys suggested that there was indeed evidence of such argument.

“The government should reread the thousands of pages of witness statements,” the defense wrote, “before asserting that it would be” unfounded “to claim that Ms Maxwell was a victim of Epstein.”

“The government would like nothing better if the court demands that defense lawyers have their hands tied behind their backs and their mouths taped,” added the defense.

Regardless of the defense strategy, Ms Maxwell’s attorneys will also fight the idea that she is Mr Epstein’s attorney – that his trial will be one he never had.

Mr Epstein first avoided federal sex trafficking charges in 2007 when he negotiated a secret deal with the US Attorney’s Office in Miami to plead guilty to minor counts of soliciting a minor for the purpose of prostitution. He avoided another trial when he committed suicide in 2019.

“The fact that I will never have the chance to face my predator in court gnaws at my heart,” Jennifer Araoz, one of Mr Epstein’s accusers, said in a hearing shortly after. Mr. Epstein’s death. She had accused Mr Epstein of raping her when she was a 15-year-old performing arts high school student in New York City.

The judge in Mr Epstein’s case, Richard M. Berman, had called the hearing after prosecutors asked him to dismiss Mr Epstein’s indictment because of his death. Judge Berman did, but only after giving nearly two dozen accusers of Mr Epstein a chance to be heard in class.

“Please finish what you started,” another accuser of Mr Epstein, Sarah Ransome, said at the hearing, thanking prosecutors for “pursuing justice on behalf of the victims” .

As for the photo of Mr Epstein, which was sketched sitting between his lawyers during a bail hearing in 2019, it has been withdrawn at the request of the parties.

“I have a feeling that both sides want to make sure there will be a fair trial,” said Deirdre von Dornum, head of the federal advocates office in Brooklyn.

She said prosecutors would not want the defense to later be able to seek a quashing of the trial on the grounds that a juror was influenced by Epstein’s sketch. And Ms Maxwell’s attorneys wouldn’t want a juror to think, “He’s so notorious he’s hanging on the wall.”

“It will remind jurors,” she said, “that his trial never took place and that he was never brought to justice, so someone has yet to be.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: As Ghislaine Maxwell's trial begins, Epstein's shadow grows
As Ghislaine Maxwell's trial begins, Epstein's shadow grows
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