Ghislaine Maxwell trial starts with fight over role in Epstein crimes
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Ghislaine Maxwell's trial kicked off with two starkly different narratives about who she is and why she has been charged with sex trafficking.
Maxwell, 59, “is a convenient stand-in” for the failure to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes, defence attorney Bobbi Sternheim told jurors in a lower Manhattan courtroom Monday.
But prosecutor Lara Pomerantz said Maxwell and Epstein, her ex-boyfriend and employer, were “partners in crime” and the British socialite played a “central rol” in luring girls as young as 14 into the financier's world, where they were subject to sexual abuse.
“Make no mistake: She knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them inside those massage rooms,” Pomerantz said.
In opening statements that were interrupted three times by prosecutors' objections, Sternheim attacked the motives of the four women who have accused Maxwell of crimes, saying their stories have changed and that they collected millions from an Epstein victim's fund and could make more if they co-operated with the government.
She argued that at least one accuser was using drugs or living a dangerous lifestyle when they came into his orbit.
Monday's opening marks the first battle in front of the 12 jurors and six alternates who have been selected to hear what’s expected to be a six-week trial.
Maxwell is facing multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison. Epstein, who was also charged with sex-trafficking, committed suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial.
At one point during the defence's opening statements, the government objected to them calling Maxwell a scapegoat.
“She is filling that hole and filling an empty chair,” Sternheim said in response.
Final jury selection for Maxwell hit a snag on Monday when three potential jurors failed to show up, including one who told the judge that she or he “forgot“ about the trial.
Yesterday, a 33-year-old juror whose spouse surprised him with last-minute tickets for a Christmas vacation was excused from the trial by the judge. The juror will be replaced with one of the six alternates.
The trial is expected to run for six weeks -- straight through the Christmas holiday.
The government yesterday resumed hearing from its first witness -- Lawrence Viskoski jr, who served as a private pilot for Epstein from 1991 to 2019. The prosecutors' case alleges Maxwell’s criminal behaviour took place between 1994 and 2004. Epstein was famous for ferrying prominent figures, including Bill Clinton to his homes on a private jet that was nicknamed the Lolita Express by the tabloids.
Viskoski is helping set the scene for the jury of Epstein and Maxwell's life together, providing descriptions of Epstein's jet-set lifestyle on private helicopters and planes, his five homes and life on Little St James, a private island in the Caribbean that Epstein owned.
Viskoski testified on Monday that whatever relationship Epstein and Maxwell had at one time, they no longer exhibited any outward affection for each other by the early 2000s.
“I wouldn't even categorise it as romantic, more couple-ish,“ Viskoski said. ”I haven’t witnessed them kiss or hold hands.“
The full list of witnesses in the case has been sealed, and it’ unclear who will be called next.