US judge upholds Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction in sex abuse case

Maxwell’s lawyers sought new trial after a juror did not disclose he was a victim of childhood abuse before trial began.

ghislaine maxwell
Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, in December was convicted on five charges, including sex trafficking of minors [File: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

A judge in the United States has upheld British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking conviction despite a juror’s acknowledgement that he had falsely stated before the trial that he had not been sexually abused.

Maxwell, 60, was convicted in December of helping the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls. Maxwell requested a new trial in January after one of the 12 jurors in the case said in media interviews that he had been sexually abused as a child.

US Circuit Judge Alison Nathan on Friday decided that the juror, referred to as Juror 50 in court papers, testified truthfully at a hearing last month about Maxwell’s request for a new trial.

“His failure to disclose his prior sexual abuse during the jury selection process was highly unfortunate, but not deliberate,” Nathan wrote. “The Court further concludes that Juror 50 harbored no bias toward the Defendant and could serve as a fair and impartial juror.”

The decision to uphold the conviction paves the way for Maxwell to be sentenced in June. She faces up to 65 years in prison after being found guilty on five of the six counts she faced.

Asked in a pretrial screening questionnaire whether he had been a victim of sexual abuse, the juror had checked “no”.

Maxwell’s lawyers said they would have struck the juror from the panel if he had answered honestly, and contended that his false statement denied Maxwell her right to a fair trial.

Prosecutors said that Maxwell could not show that the juror was biased after he said during jury selection that he would be fair and impartial and decide the case based on the evidence.

Maxwell’s lawyers have promised to appeal the guilty verdict. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency on Friday.

In her written decision, Nathan rejected a request by Maxwell’s lawyers earlier on Friday to delay her decision on their bid for a new trial until after the Paramount+ streaming service airs a documentary about Maxwell in which the juror is interviewed.

The verdict provided a sense of closure for Epstein’s victims, who have long sought to hold him and his associates accountable for sexual abuses dating back more than a quarter-century.

Epstein died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at age 66 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell’s trial represented a reckoning that Epstein, a globe-trotting investor who counted elite politicians and business leaders among his social companions, never had.

It was also one of the highest-profile cases in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse by famous and powerful people.

Four women who testified at the trial in federal court in Manhattan said Maxwell, the daughter of British media baron Robert Maxwell, recruited and groomed them when they were teenagers to be abused by Epstein between 1994 and 2004.

Maxwell pleaded not guilty and argued she was being scapegoated. Her lawyers sought to undermine her accusers by claiming they were motivated by money to implicate Maxwell and that their memories were flawed.

In interviews with media after the verdict, Juror 50, who identified himself by his first and middle names Scotty David, said he discussed his own abuse as a child during jury deliberations to illustrate how Maxwell’s accusers’ memories may not have been perfect.

He told Reuters he did not recall being asked in a juror questionnaire about personal experiences with sexual abuse, and would have answered honestly.

At a March 8 hearing, he said he rushed through the questionnaire, made a mistake in saying he had not been a sexual abuse victim and did not deliberately lie to get on the panel.

Source: Reuters