The jurors weighed Ghislaine Maxwell’s fate late Tuesday, during their fifth day, telling the judge they were making progress – and then asked to go home early.
During deliberations, 12 jurors sent a series of intriguing and cryptic smoke signals in notes delivered to the judge. The length of their debate shows government case did not overwhelm, despite worrying signs for the defence.
An immediate cause for concern is the threat posed by Covid-19, which is a Omicron wave sweep across New York City. The longer the jurors’ argument dragged on, the greater the risk of one or more people becoming infected, possibly leading to mishandling.
Judge Alison Nathan acknowledged that risk when she ordered jurors on Tuesday to sit all week, and even through the weekend, until they reach a verdict, because of the “stormy spike”. ” in the cases of Covid.
On Wednesday, the jury sent a note asking if they had to weigh in on Friday, which is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on Saturday – to which the judge replied that they would, except any “significant difficulty” it may pose.
“Time is the defense’s friend, especially in this case,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who now works at West Coast Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles. He took it as a worrying sign for prosecutors when the jury failed to reach a verdict before the Christmas holiday.
“The longer this goes on, the worse the prosecution gets and the greater the risk that an entrenched juror and this jury will be hanged,” Rahmani said.
Even so, he didn’t expect it Maxwell, 60, to go free, which would require a jury to acquit her on all six counts of allegedly grooming underage women for her old friend Jeffrey Epstein, for sexual abuse.
Epstein died by suicide in his New York City cell in 2019, a month after being arrested for sex trafficking. Maxwell, a British social media site and daughter of the late newspaper tycoon and embezzler, Robert Maxwell, was arrested the following year. She has denied the charges, and her lawyers have argued that she has been made a scapegoat for his wrongdoing.
The juries, after returning from the Christmas break, asked for a whiteboard and highlighter on Monday morning, showing how they had painstakingly sorted out a complex case revolving around events from more than 20 years ago.
They also asked for the testimony of one of Epstein’s pilots.
While it was impossible to know where they stood, Maxwell had a forewarning feeling a week before jurors asked if they could examine a witness’s testimony, Annie Farmer.
Farmer testified about a trip to Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico when she was 16, where Maxwell, she said, encouraged her to get a nude massage and then grope the top of her breasts. Now a licensed psychologist with an Ivy League education, Farmer is a seemingly unfathomable witness, whose testimony is supported by a former high school boyfriend and her mother. that.
“The answer is yes, you can look into it,” the judge said, to the objections of Maxwell’s lawyers.
Other government witnesses have alleged abuse over a period of years, and while the commonalities are similar, some points of inconsistency can make room for any juror who doesn’t want to. believe in them.
One witness, identified as Carolyn, recalled going with an elderly friend to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion when she was 14 years old to give a rich man a massage for money. Carolyn said she met a woman she knew called “Maxwell,” who helped arrange some of the more than 100 such visits over the next two years that Epstein would abuse her.
But upon cross-examination, Carolyn admitted that she hadn’t mentioned Maxwell to the FBI when they first spoke to her about Epstein in 2007. The next year, the defense noted, she filed civil suit against Epstein and Sarah Kellen, one of his assistants. – but not Maxwell.
Carolyn is the only witness whose testimony supports the allegation of sex trafficking of minors, the heaviest sentence: up to 40 years in prison.
Maxwell’s attorneys and family expressed excitement when jurors asked on the second day of deliberations to review Carolyn’s copy, which was deposed by the FBI, although the judge refused because it had not been adjudicated. accept as proof.
Another government witness, identified as Jane, also testified about allegations of abuse by Epstein and Maxwell, which began when she was 14 years old, and that her family fell into dire poverty following the death of her father. her because of cancer.
Upon cross-examination, Maxwell’s attorney, Laura Menninger, noted that Jane waited 20 years to report her lawsuit to law enforcement.
Jane told the jury that Epstein and Maxwell led her to his bedroom when she was 14, and removed their clothes before urging her to do so. But after a meeting in December 2019, the FBI wrote that Jane had no “specific memory” of the first sexual massage Maxwell had. “Have you come up with that memory in the last two years?” Menninger asked.
On Wednesday, jurors asked the judge to consider the testimony of five witnesses, including an expert on “false memories” who testified on behalf of the defense.
The defense has also repeatedly cited the amount of money the women received from Epstein’s victim compensation fund, arguing that they altered their accounts over the years to help the government and thus reinforce their own claims.
“Historically, in sexual abuse cases, the government has had to bring in a large number of victims,” Rahmani said of the prosecutors’ challenge. “These are the four best victims the government has.”