Ghislaine Maxwell’s lawyer spoke about the Bible, James Bond and the “bad behaviour of men” as she outlined her arguments in a blockbuster trial.
Ghislaine Maxwell’s defence lawyers portrayed her as a scapegoat being accused because of “the bad behaviour of men,” — one in particular — since prosecutors never had a chance to put late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein on trial.
Her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, invoked the Bible at the start of her opening statement, arguing that women have been condemned for crimes committed by men since the beginning of time.
“Ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam with the apple,” said Sternheim. “Women have been blamed for the bad behaviour of men.”
“Ghislaine is on trial here and you heard about the conduct of Jeffrey Epstein. She is filling that hole. And filling an empty chair,” said Sternheim, adding that her client was a “convenient stand-in” for the dead sex offender.
Sternheim also took aim at the four alleged victims in the case, claiming they had been taken advantage of by aggressive civil defence attorneys and, in some cases, are searching for a payday.
“Memory, manipulation and money,” Sternheim repeatedly told jurors would be raised by defence attorneys as they seek to sow doubt in the prosecution’s case.
One of the victims, Sternheim said, was not introduced to Epstein by Maxwell, rather by another accuser, Virginia Giuffre, and her claims never included alleged crimes committed by Maxwell until after Epstein’s death.
The reason her story switched, Sternheim said, is because she was seeking cash from an Epstein victims’ fund — and turned over information about Maxwell to prosecutors in an effort to bolster that claim.
“In many regards, he was like a 21st Century James Bond,” Sternheim said about Epstein. “His mystery has stirred interest. His accusers have shaken the money tree and millions of dollars have fallen their way.”
Defence attorneys will also poke holes in the prosecution by attempting to show two of the victims in the case were above the age of consent when sexual contact between them and Epstein took place, Sternheim said.
One of the victims, Sternheim said, only met Maxwell once when she was 16 years old in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is above the age of consent in the state.
Another one of the four victims was a woman who lived a “jetsetter” lifestyle before she met Epstein and once dated a man more than twice her age, who knew Maxwell from Oxford, Sternheim said.
That victim, the lawyer continued, was above the age of consent in every place she met with Maxwell and Epstein.
Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein
Maxwell is accused of setting young girls up to be abused by “predator” Jeffrey Epstein, prosecutors said Monday, as the sex trafficking trial of the British jet-set socialite and heiress began in New York.
While the defence urged jurors not to “scapegoat” Maxwell for Epstein’s crimes, government attorneys described her as the late financier’s “lady of the house,” who maintained “a culture of silence” over a years-long arrangement to sexually exploit girls under 18 years old.
Maxwell “made those girls feel seen. They made them feel special. But that was a cover,” federal lawyer Lara Pomerantz told the jury.
In fact, she “served them up to be sexually abused,” the prosecutor said. Two years after Epstein killed himself in jail before he went on trial for similar charges, Maxwell sat in the Manhattan courtroom facing six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
Four women who allegedly suffered at the hands of the duo are key witnesses in the trial, which is taking place under intense media attention.
Masked and wearing a beige sweater and black slacks, the 59-year-old daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell fidgeted during the final steps of jury selection, frequently passing notes with her legal team, before staring stoically as the government delivered its opening arguments.
She could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted.
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Epstein’s ‘right-hand’ partner
Maxwell, whose sister Isabel was seated in the courtroom’s gallery, has pleaded not guilty to all six counts.
Her legal team is aiming to spear accusers’ stories as “thin,” and their memories as “unreliable.” In opening statements lawyer Bobbi Sternheim argued their recollections have faded or been “corrupted” by forces including media attention and the prospect of “a big jackpot of money” in potential civil suits against Epstein’s estate.
Sternheim meanwhile cast Maxwell as a “target” being blamed for the late Epstein’s crimes.
The lawyer dubbed Maxwell a “bullseye” for “anger from women who were or who believe they were victimised by Epstein,” whose death left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice,” she said.
Maxwell is “filling that hole,” Sternheim said.
But Pomerantz said that during the period the charges against her cover, 1994-2004, Maxwell was Epstein’s “right-hand” partner, winning the trust of girls as young as 14 and then conditioning them to give nude massages and then sex to the late magnate.
Maxwell “knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them in those massage rooms” in Epstein’s luxurious homes in New Mexico, Manhattan, Paris and Palm Beach, Florida, the prosecutor said.
Epstein was a multimillion-dollar money manager who befriended countless celebrities, including Britain’s Prince Andrew, and was accused of providing them with women, including minors.
Prosecutors say Maxwell facilitated and took part in the abuse of the four unidentified women, befriending them with shopping and movie theatre trips before coaxing them to engage in sex acts with Epstein, later giving them money.
Following opening statements the prosecution called its first witness, Lawrence Visoski, who worked as a pilot for Epstein from 1991 to 2019.
During initial questioning, which is set to continue Tuesday, Visoski described Maxwell’s general relationship to Epstein, which he called “couple-ish” as he depicted their jet-set lifestyle and the businessman’s luxury properties.
Facing 80-year sentence
Epstein, who for years skirted charges with the help of flawed laws, powerful connections and sympathetic law enforcement, was arrested in July 2019.
But a month later he committed suicide while in prison.
Prosecutors vowed to go after anyone who helped him in the abuse of the girls, and arrested Maxwell in July 2020.
The trial is expected to stretch over six weeks, and Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Due to the continued threat of Covid-19, plexiglass boxes with air filters have been set up for the witnesses and questioning attorneys.
In the days leading up to the trial fake claims spread across social media — and were echoed by some prominent political conservatives — that the judge in the case had banned media coverage, ostensibly to protect Epstein’s powerful friends and associates.
Yet hundreds of professional journalists gathered at the courthouse Monday, with some reporters allowed in the courtroom, in limited numbers due to the pandemic.
The proceedings are not being televised — as is customary in accordance with federal law — but dozens more journalists observed the trial from separate overflow viewing rooms inside the courthouse.
Brother comes out swinging
As the trial gets underway in New York, Maxwell’s brother across the Atlantic has come out swinging in defence of his sibling, who he says believes she will be exonerated.
In an interview withIan Maxwell said his sister has been “consistently” portrayed in a negative light by the media following her arrest in July 2020.
“I do not believe Ghislaine is guilty of the charges she is facing. She has protested her innocence vehemently since her arrest.
“The real problem has been the media deluge since her arrest and indeed since the death of Jeffrey Epstein in 2019 has been consistently negative, to the extent that she is already judged guilty in the court of public opinion. And that is just wrong.”
He questioned whether the 12 jurors will be able to put aside the media attention and focus on the case itself.
“She believes she is going to be exonerated. But are the 12 jurors capable of being impartial and only considering the evidence that’s put before them at trial?
“I am worried that the extent of the negativity about Ghislaine and about this whole horrible case will effectively have poisoned the jury pool to the extent that they will be unable to put away whatever thoughts they may have and to concentrate solely on the evidence and to being an impartial jury.”
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