Ghislaine Maxwell looked seductively close to her old self while sitting in a courtroom in New York for the past month.
Dressed in a variety of comfortable sweaters and custom trousers instead of prison wear, her hair was brushed out, and she radiated the magnetism of her social days as she smiled at family and friends sitting in the gallery behind her. Only when the court adjourned for the day would the illusion melt when Maxwell was escorted out the door by a U.S. officer and back to her jail cell.
But Wednesday night, on the sixth day of deliberation, a jury of 12 people shattered the illusion and sent Maxwell, 60, back to her cell, possibly for the rest of her days, after found her guilty on five of six criminal charges for aiding and abetting her former partner, Jeffrey Epstein, in sexually abusing girls as young as 14.
It was an astonishing statement, especially after lengthy deliberations. The question now is what Maxwell is going to do next – and what other illusions can crack.
Maxwell’s lawyers said Wednesday night they are working on an appeal. But, with as much as 65 years in prison in the face, she may soon conclude that it is in her best interest to cooperate with authorities after detaining them for years. If so, it could lead to charges against other figures in the Epstein operation, such as other former assistants, who may have helped administer what U.S. authorities claimed was a “pyramid scheme” to recruit dozens of underage girls for abuse.
Maxwell’s collaboration would also bring new investigations to the rich and powerful men who teamed up with Epstein – who died in prison in 2019 – and to whom, his accusers claim, they were trafficked.
“I do not think it’s the end,” said David Boies, whose firm, Boies Schiller, represented Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of the first Epstein prosecutors to be released – and now his former friend Britain’s Prince Andrew , sue. for sexual abuse. Prince Andrew denied the allegations.
“She has nothing to lose now,” Boies said of Maxwell. “At one point she may have wanted to maintain her relationships with rich and powerful people. But those people are not going to do anything to her in prison. “
Given the weight of the jury’s ruling, freedom may no longer be an option, he argued. But naming names might allow her to spend some of her remaining years out of jail. (Boies faced his own criticism for Defend Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who was convicted of rape last year).
The Maxwell trial will have other, more immediate repercussions. It could be a landmark moment in which the traditional defense playbook of “blaming the victims” in such cases and smearing their character failed.
Maxwell’s legal team, led by Bobbi Sternheim and Laura Menninger, did so with zeal. Their defense was almost entirely devoted to cruel cross-examination of four women prosecutors who testified against Maxwell.
The lawyers argued that the witnesses were liars, to distort the truth in the pursuit of a “jackpot” in financial compensation. One accused’s previous drug abuse was told. Another was accused of lying about her family’s financial pressures after her father’s sudden death. Most were moved to tears at some point when Menninger roasted them about the details of what, in some cases, happened more than 20 years ago.
While the jury’s deliberations stretched beyond Christmas and prompted them to review more evidence, many legal analysts believed the defense strategy was working. Then came the verdict.
“The verdict sends a clear message that we can no longer tolerate blaming survivors of sexual abuse who have the courage to come forward. I’m so glad to see that these brave women were believed, and that a defendant was called to justice, ”said Barry Salzman, a senior partner at Barasch & McGarry in New York, who represented several Epstein victims. .
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, predicted that Maxwell would file an appeal, “because she has little to lose at this point”. But, he added, “Maxwell will have trouble reversing the verdict because Judge [Alison] “Nathan is a competent judge and the trial seemed fair.”
Meanwhile, the verdict for Roberts Giuffre was less a reason for celebration than relief, according to those who know her. She was far away, in her adopted home, Australia, with her family, when it was read.
She sued Maxwell in 2015 for defamation after she was called a liar for her public claims of abuse. That case was eventually settled, but it created a mountain of documentation about Epstein and Maxwell’s world that was seized by journalists and lawyers.
Among the trump card was a statement given by Maxwell in which she claimed she had no knowledge of Epstein’s plan to recruit underage girls or the sex toys at his property. That statement eventually led to criminal charges of perjury against her, which are still pending.
“My soul longed for justice for many years and today the jury gave me exactly that. I will always remember this day, “Roberts Giuffre said in a statement after the verdict.
In a worrying sign for other Epstein partners, she also made it clear that she did not consider the matter settled. “I hope today is not the end, but rather another step in justice being served,” she said. “Maxwell did not act alone. Others must be held accountable. I have faith that they will be. “