NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ghislaine Maxwell’s attorneys will likely focus on portraying the British socialite’s accusers as untrustworthy and motivated by money when they start presenting their case in her sex abuse trial on Thursday, according to legal experts and court filings.
Prosecutors rested their case on Friday after two weeks of emotional, often explicit testimony from four women who said Maxwell recruited and groomed them for abuse by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein when the women were teenagers.
The women portrayed Maxwell as central to their abuse by Epstein, a globetrotting financier who died by suicide in 2019 in jail while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of sex trafficking and other crimes in federal court in New York. During cross-examinations, her lawyers tried to undermine the women’s credibility by asking about inconsistencies in their accounts and about awards they received from a fund for Epstein’s victims.
“This case is about memory, manipulation and money,” Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim said in her Nov. 29 opening statement.
One of Maxwell’s expected expert witnesses is Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who studies how people can be manipulated into having “false memories.” She has testified in or consulted for hundreds of trials, including those of O.J. Simpson and Harvey Weinstein.
But undermining the accusers’ credibility remains an uphill battle, said Duncan Levin, managing partner at Tucker Levin PLLC.
“It’s straight out of the playbook,” Levin said. “But … it’s a heavy lift to ask jurors to discount what (the accusers)may be saying because they got money.”
The defense has said its case will last between two and four days.
Given the women’s compelling testimony, the defense’s best bet may be calling Maxwell herself to testify, said Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, principal attorney at ZMO Law PLLC.
The jury is “going to believe the gist of what the witnesses are saying,” Margulis-Ohnuma said. “The only real counter to that is (Maxwell’s) coming back and saying no, I didn’t intend that.”
Maxwell’s attorneys have not indicated whether or not they plan to call her to the stand.
Maxwell’s team also intends to call attorneys for “Jane” and “Carolyn,” two of the women who testified that they were 14 when Epstein first abused them. Jane testified under a pseudonym and Carolyn testified using only her first name.
At issue is whether Jane’s attorney, Robert Glassman, told her that cooperating with prosecutors would assist her claim with the fund, which the defense says could taint her testimony. Jane testified that she was awarded $5 million from the compensation fund established by Epstein’s estate.
Similarly, Maxwell’s attorneys said they want to question Carolyn’s attorney, Jack Scarola, about why Carolyn was “uncooperative until there was the prospect of a payout.”
In a Wednesday letter, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan to bar the lawyers from being called to the stand, arguing that much of their testimony would violate attorney-client privilege and would not be relevant even in instances where it did not.
Jane testified that she did not believe helping prosecutors would boost her claim. Carolyn testified that “money will not ever fix what [Maxwell] has done to me.”
The fund considered whether a claimant’s assertions matched up with any law enforcement findings, but it is a “stretch” to say that cooperating enhanced the women’s claims, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
“There is no requirement that a victim cooperate or testify for the prosecution,” said Levenson, who reviewed the fund’s protocol at Reuters’ request.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York: Editing by Amy Stevens, Grant McCool, Alexandra Hudson)