Stage set for Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial

FILE — Ghislaine Maxwell, founder of the TerraMar Project, attends a press conference on the Issue of Oceans in Sustainable Development Goals, at United Nations headquarters, June 25, 2013. Maxwell spent the first half of her life with her father, a rags-to-riches billionaire who looted his companies’ pension funds before dying a mysterious death. She spent the second with another tycoon, Jeffrey Epstein, who died while charged with sexually abusing teenage girls. Now, after a life of both scandal and luxury, Maxwell’s next act will be decided by a U.S. trial.(United Nations Photo/Rick Bajornas via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Two years after Jeffrey Epstein's suicide behind bars, a jury is set to be picked Monday in New York City to determine a central question in the long-running sex trafficking case: Was his longtime companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s puppet or accomplice?

Maxwell — who once dated the financier — is accused of acting as Epstein's chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse. The charges against her stem from the allegations of four women who say she and Epstein victimized them as teens from 1994 to 2004.

Prosecutors say there’s evidence Maxwell knew that the victims, including a 14-year-old, were below the age of consent and that she arranged travel for some between Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his posh Manhattan townhouse and at other residences in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and London.

Epstein killed himself at a Manhattan federal lockup in August 2019, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, arresting her after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denies wrongdoing. The 59-year-old British socialite, jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest, has called the claims against her “absolute rubbish.” Maxwell's lawyers and family say she was Epstein's pawn, now paying “a blood price” to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable for his crimes.

The first order of business Monday will be finalizing the selection of the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear Maxwell's case. Jurors will be picked from a pool of 40 to 60 potential jurors who made it through initial questioning.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan instructed the prosecution and defense to submit lists of potential jurors they want excluded from the trial. In selecting primary jurors, the defense will have 10 peremptory challenges and the prosecution will have six, Nathan said. For alternates, each side will get three challenges.

President Joe Biden recently nominated Nathan to a seat on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, but the judge said she will continue to preside over Maxwell's trial.

The wealthy, Oxford-educated Maxwell is the daughter of British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht — named the Lady Ghislaine — near the Canary Islands. Robert Maxwell, whose holdings at the time included the New York Daily News, was facing allegations that he had illegally looted his businesses’ pension funds.

Ghislaine Maxwell holds U.S., British and French citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.

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