Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty by a US jury of helping the late financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls, sealing a remarkable fall from grace for the British socialite.
Maxwell, 60, was accused of recruiting and grooming four teenagers for Epstein between 1994 and 2004. Her former boyfriend Epstein took his own life in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges of his own.
She was convicted on five of six counts. After the verdict was read, Maxwell pulled down her face mask and poured herself a glass of water.
Along with the trials of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and singer R. Kelly, Maxwell’s case is among the highest-profile trials to take place in the wake of the MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse by famous and powerful people.
During the trial’s closing arguments in federal court in Manhattan a prosecutor said Maxwell was Epstein’s “partner in crime”.
“Ghislaine Maxwell made her own choices. She committed crimes hand in hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing,” Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe said.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, applauded the verdict in a statement that said Maxwell was convicted of “one of the worst crimes imaginable.”
“The road to justice has been far too long,” his statement said.
“But, today, justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls – now grown women – who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom.”
Maxwell’s lawyers had argued she was being used as a scapegoat for Epstein and sought to portray the accounts of her four accusers as not credible, saying their memories had been corrupted over the decades and that they were motivated by money.
“Epstein’s death left a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice for many of these women,” Maxwell’s defence lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said.
“She’s filling that hole, and filling that empty chair.”
US District Judge Alison Nathan did not say when Maxwell would be sentenced. She said she appreciated the jury’s work in the face of surging COVID-19 cases.
“Let me say my sincere thanks on behalf of the court and the parties and myself for your attention, time and service,” the judge said.
The jury deliberated for five full days before reaching the verdict.
During the trial, jurors heard emotional and graphic testimony from four women, two of whom said they were 14 when Epstein began abusing them. Three of the women said Maxwell herself had inappropriately touched them.
Prosecutors displayed for the jury a green massage table that was seized from Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate in 2005. Three of the four accusers said they gave Epstein massages that escalated into sexual activity.
A woman known by the pseudonym Jane testified that she was 14 when Epstein first abused her in 1994.
Maxwell sometimes took part in her sexual encounters with Epstein and acted as if it was normal, Jane testified.
“It made me feel confused because that did not feel normal to me,” Jane said. “I’d never seen anything like this or felt anything like this.”
Moe said during her closing argument that Maxwell’s presence made young girls feel comfortable with Epstein. Otherwise, receiving an invitation to spend time with a middle-aged man would have seemed “creepy” and “set off alarm bells,” Moe said.
“Epstein could not have done this alone,” she said.
Moe reminded jurors of bank records they saw at trial showing that Epstein paid Maxwell millions of dollars over the years. She said Maxwell was motivated to do whatever it took to keep Epstein happy in order to maintain her luxurious lifestyle.
Defence lawyer Laura Menninger countered during closing arguments that Maxwell was an innocent woman and that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Maxwell was aware of or involved in any crimes Epstein committed.
The jury also saw images depicting Maxwell’s and Epstein’s intimate relationship during the 1990s. The never-before-seen digital photographs showed Maxwell kissing Epstein on the cheek or rubbing his bare foot.
Maxwell’s lawyers aggressively pushed back on the accusers’ accounts during the trial, arguing that their stories had shifted over the years.
Maxwell’s defence said the women were motivated by money to implicate Maxwell since all four had received million-dollar awards from a compensation fund for Epstein’s victims.
But the women disputed those characterisations, saying they decided to testify out of a desire for justice, not money.
“Money will not ever fix what that woman has done to me,” testified one woman, known by her first name Carolyn.