US jury finds Ghislaine Maxwell guilty in sex abuse case

Jeffrey Epstein associate to appeal case after being convicted of sex trafficking of minors, among other charges.

Courtroom sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell.
Ghislaine Maxwell had pleaded not guilty of six charges in her high-profile sex abuse case in New York City, US [Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

After days of deliberations, a jury in the United States has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of aiding disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse teenage girls.

Jurors deliberated for five full days before finding Maxwell, 60, guilty on five of six counts on Wednesday, including the most serious charge of sex trafficking of minors, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

A former girlfriend and associate of Epstein’s, the British socialite had pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her.

The verdict capped a widely-watched trial that featured sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s homes in Florida, New York, and New Mexico.

Maxwell sat passively in the Manhattan courtroom, slowly removing her mask to take sips of water, as Judge Alison Nathan read out the verdicts for each of the six counts.

Nathan offered her “sincere thanks” to the jury, adding that they served with “diligence”.

In addition to the sex trafficking charge, Maxwell also was convicted of conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

She was acquitted of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.

The defence had insisted Maxwell was a victim of a vindictive prosecution devised to deliver justice because Epstein died by suicide while awaiting trial in 2019.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, her attorneys say they will appeal the case.

“We firmly believe in Ghisliane’s innocence. Obviously, we are very disappointed in the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal, and we are confident she will be vindicated,” defence attorney Bobbi Sternheim said.

But US prosecutors argued Maxwell was a “dangerous” predator who recruited and groomed teenage girls for Epstein.

Two of Epstein’s alleged victims said they were as young as 14 when Maxwell allegedly began grooming them and arranging for them to give massages to Epstein that led to sexual activity.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from outside the federal court in New York where Maxwell was convicted on Wednesday, said she could face up to 65 years in prison.

Elizondo said the defence had hoped that the lengthy jury deliberation would lead to an acquittal, but the jury came to a “conclusive verdict”.

He stressed the importance of the victims’ accounts in the trial’s outcome. “Their testimony was very powerful quite frankly, and without their testimony, I think it would have been probably difficult for the prosecution,” Elizondo said.

Damian Williams, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, welcomed the verdict, saying that Maxwell had committed “one of the worst crimes imaginable”.

“The road to justice has been far too long,” Williams said in a statement. “But, today, justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls – now grown women – who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible.”

Lisa Bloom, who previously represented several victims who accused Epstein of sexual abuse, also said that the jury’s decision meant “Maxwell has finally been held to account for bringing girls to Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Maxwell got to walk free on this earth for 60 years. May she never walk free again,” Bloom wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a lawyer who represented nine victims of Epstein said the verdict in the trial of Maxwell could empower more survivors to come forward.

Speaking to UK broadcaster Sky, Spencer Kuvin said he and his clients saw the verdict as “an absolute and unmitigated victory”.

“For this abuser to be convicted really makes my clients feel hope. Hope that the system, which they known up until this time to be completely broken with respect to Mr Epstein, has come to a final conclusion”, Kuvin said in an interview from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Maxwell, who was arrested by US authorities in July 2020, has remained behind bars after being denied bail, even after defence lawyers offered $28.5m and round-the-clock armed guards to ensure Maxwell did not flee.

She walked out of the courtroom into detention on Wednesday as she has every day of the trial. No date has been set for her sentencing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies