Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking trial finally to begin in earnest

Photograph: UNTV/Reuters

Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial is scheduled to start in earnest in federal court in Manhattan on Monday with opening statements about the eagerly awaited case.

Related: Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking trial ‘over-hyped’, brother insists

The first arguments will set the stage for a six-week trial in which the British socialite’s alleged involvement in Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes will be aired in grueling detail, outlining how prosecutors and defense attorneys will approach the proceedings.

Maxwell, 59, stands accused of recruiting and grooming girls for the late disgraced financier, from 1994 to 2004, some of whom were just 14 years old. Epstein’s sometime girlfriend is also accused of participating in his sexual abuse of teenage girls.

Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail on 10 August 2019, while awaiting his own sex-trafficking trial. Maxwell was arrested on 2 July 2020 in New Hampshire, a year after Epstein’s arrest.

“From the prosecution, you’d expect that they would lay out their case and give a preview of the type of evidence that’s going to come in, and a preview of who the witnesses will be, and they’re going to want to try to lay out their whole story of their case,” said Jennifer Louis-Jeune, a veteran defense attorney in New York, of what to expect in the first days of Maxwell’s trial.

“The defense usually holds back a little bit more in an opening statement because we don’t know what all the evidence is, and we just want the jury to really be thinking critically when they listen to each witness – and to not take what the witness says as being the truth just because they’re on the stand, and to think of how all the witnesses fit together.”

David S Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who now works on white-collar criminal defense at the firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, said prosecutors would be careful about what they tell jurors during openings.

“As a prosecutor, you don’t want to over-promise,” Weinstein said. “Although you’ve planned your case out, things can happen in the middle of a case, objections can get raised, issues can get clouded.

“And so that creates a reasonable doubt,” Weinstein said, allowing the defense to say: “They didn’t sustain the burden of proof.”

Maxwell is on trial on six counts: conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, sex trafficking conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor.

The counts cite four accusers – listed in the indictment as Minor Victim-1, Minor Victim-2, Minor Victim-3 and Minor Victim-4 – though more are expected to testify.

Maxwell also faces charges for lying under oath. Federal prosecutors have said Maxwell tried to hide her participation in Epstein’s acts, stating false information “under oath” during civil litigation. That litigation was the defamation case in which th Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre sued Maxwell.

Giuffre alleges Epstein and Maxwell forced her into sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17. Giuffre filed suit against Maxwell for saying she was a liar. Maxwell has insisted she is innocent of all wrongdoing; the Duke of York adamantly insists on his innocence too. Maxwell will be tried separately for allegedly lying under oath, meaning Giuffre’s claims will not be part of the upcoming proceedings in New York.

Prosecutors allege that Maxwell met Minor Victim-1 when the girl was about 14 and interacted with her at Epstein’s homes. From about 1994 to 1997, the indicment alleges, Maxwell “groomed Minor Victim-1 to engage in sexual acts with Epstein through multiple means” and “sought to normalize inappropriate and abusive conduct by, among other things, undressing in front of Minor Victim-1 and being present when Minor Victim-1 undressed in front of Epstein”.

“Maxwell was present for and involved in some of this abuse,” charging papers say.

Minor Victim-2 and Maxwell are alleged to have interacted in 1996 at Epstein’s New Mexico property. The teen had come from out of state “at Epstein’s invitation for the purpose of being groomed for and/or subjected to acts of sexual abuse”, court papers say. Maxwell is alleged to have known the girl was under 18.

Maxwell is alleged to have started to groom the girl for Epstein’s abuse “by, among other things, providing an unsolicited massage to Minor Victim-2, during which Minor Victim- 2 was topless”. In addition, Maxwell is alleged to have “encouraged Minor Victim- 2 to massage Epstein”.

Related: Ghislaine Maxwell jury selection strays into questions of cop shows and fishing

From 1994 to 1995, Maxwell allegedly targeted Minor Victim-3 in London, which included a time where she knew the victim was below 18. She is alleged to have introduced the girl to Epstein, arranging “multiple interactions” during which Maxwell urged the girl to massage him. Maxwell knew Epstein would sexually abuse the minor during these encounters, court papers maintain.

Minor Victim-4 was lured into Epstein’s orbit to give Epstein sexualized massages and was paid by his employees, Maxwell among them. She and Maxwell met in 2001, when the teen was 14. Maxwell and other Epstein associates are alleged to have called her to schedule times for her to massage the financier.

While Epstein looms large over proceedings against Maxwell, it is unlikely that all of his acts will be revealed in court. Judge Alison Nathan’s rulings have indicated that she does not want Maxwell’s trial to turn into a referendum on whether she is being targeted because Epstein cannot face justice in death.

Maxwell, who maintains her innocence, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted.

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