In the weeks leading up to Ghislaine Maxwell’s federal sex trafficking trial in Manhattan, her lawyers have raised issues about the “reprehensible” conditions in her Brooklyn detention facility and the ordeal she undergoes whenever she is brought to court.
They asked for F.B.I. interviews. Agents asked about past investigations into Jeffrey Epstein, her longtime partner. They took issue with an expert witness’s planned testimony on sexual abuse. And they asked the federal judge overseeing the trial to preclude federal prosecutors from referring to her accusers as “victims.”
The flurry of recent motions, hearings and rulings has begun to define the playing field for Ms. Maxwell’s highly anticipated trial. Jurors, who will begin to be chosen on Tuesday, will hear Ms. Maxwell’s accusers testify that she recruited them as minors for sexual acts with Mr. Epstein and others, in a trial that is widely seen as a proxy for trying Mr. Epstein himself.
Ms. Maxwell, 59, the daughter of a British media mogul and once a fixture in New York’s social scene, will be tried on six counts, including transporting minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. She has steadfastly maintained her innocence, and her lawyers have sought to undermine the credibility of her accusers and question the motives of prosecutors — efforts they have indicated they would continue at trial.
Their concern about the use of the term “victim” was rooted in fairness, her lawyers have argued. “In some criminal cases, the parties agree that an accuser was the victim of a crime,” they wrote to Judge Alison J. Nathan this month. “This is not one of those cases. Ms. Maxwell, on the other hand, denies that she has ever victimized anyone. And there is ample evidence to support her defense.”
But as with most of the motions filed on Ms. Maxwell’s behalf so far, Judge Nathan did not agree. She ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to describe the accusers as “victims” and, in another win for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, the accusers will be allowed to testify under pseudonyms; courtroom artists are prohibited from sketching their likeness.
Pretrial filings and decisions don’t appear to have changed the core question of the case.
“The question at trial,” prosecutors wrote, “will be whether the defendant took steps to provide Jeffrey Epstein with access to girls under the age of 18, knowing that Epstein intended to have sexual contact with those girls.”
In July 2019, Mr. Epstein was arrested on sex-trafficking allegations. He was found dead at a Manhattan detention facility a month later. His death was ruled suicide. Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers have argued that the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office only pursued her after Mr. Epstein’s death, and that they have “effectively punished” her for his death by holding her for nearly 17 months in “overly restrictive conditions.”
Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers have also repeatedly questioned the strength of the government’s case. The defense has long argued that the government has built its case on decades-old allegations — the indictment charges criminal activity by Ms. Maxwell from 1994 to 2004 — and that her accusers’ statements lack independent corroboration.
Prosecutors, for their part, have asked Judge Nathan to prevent Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers from making arguments to the jury about the government’s “motives” for bringing the case, and from introducing evidence about past investigations into Mr. Epstein. In a recent court hearing, Judge Nathan said she would block the defense from introducing some evidence about how the investigation was conducted; she also barred Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers from introducing evidence about the public outcry and heightened media scrutiny that preceded her arrest.
However, the defense has won some key legal skirmishes.
Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers had asked the judge to block the government from having one of its expert witnesses, a clinical psychologist, testify about “grooming” — a strategy predators use to try to break down a potential victim’s resistance to abusive conduct.
Judge Nathan ruled that the expert would be allowed to testify about grooming, a concept she said was “well-accepted in the relevant literature.” But she sided with Ms. Maxwell on a narrower point: The expert may not offer her opinion that grooming can be done to facilitate abuse by a third party in what the defense has called “grooming by proxy.”
And although prosecutors have argued in bail hearings that Ms. Maxwell was in hiding for months before her arrest, they have indicated they will not argue at her trial that she was trying to evade law enforcement between Epstein’s arrest and her own, court filings show.
Judge Nathan stated that she would not rule on certain matters before the trial began, such as the introduction of evidence from other victims.
In recent weeks, defense prosecutors have told Ms. Maxwell that they will be arguing that she had three co-conspirators, Mr. Epstein and two people whose identities have not been disclosed. Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers have objected to evidence about the co-conspirators, saying prosecutors identified them to the defense only weeks before trial. Neither are available to testify, nor have they been granted immunity, Ms. Maxwell’s lawyers said.
Ms. Maxwell will likely be held in custody despite her repeated pleas for bail release from the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn. Bobbi C. Sternheim her lawyer described how Ms. Maxwell was woken at 3:45 AM and brought to the Manhattan courthouse before dawn.
“She had to get on her hands and knees to climb into the van because her leg shackles would not permit her to step up,” Ms. Sternheim said. Ms. Maxwell sat in the courthouse in a cold block with no food and no utensils.
Ms. Sternheim detailed the mistreatment of her client in letters to the court. She likened the level of surveillance on Ms. Maxwell to that of Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” saying she was subject to repeated pat searches, regular checks with flashlights and complete isolation.
“Ms. Maxwell is being treated differently than other defendants,” Ms. Sternheim wrote. “Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were permitted to walk into the courthouse each day of their respective trials.”
But Judge Nathan rejected Ms. Maxwell’s latest request for release — the fourth time the judge has done so — agreeing with prosecutors that Ms. Maxwell’s personal wealth and foreign ties make her a flight risk. Her transportation to the courthouse, Judge Nathan said, should be done “in a way that is humane, proper, and consistent with security protocols.”
Source: NY Times