a ‘dangerous’ predator or ‘innocent woman’

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Federal prosecutors clashed with defense attorneys representing Ghislaine Maxwell during closing arguments Monday in the British socialite’s sex trafficking trial.

The government labeled her a “dangerous” predator who enabled longtime confidant Jeffrey Epstein, a stark contrast from the “innocent woman” her lawyers have portrayed.

“Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said, addressing a courtroom in lower Manhattan for more than two hours, depicting her as a “sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing” when she targeted and conditioned girls and young women for Epstein.

The highly anticipated trial opened three weeks ago with a jury of six men and six women hearing from two dozen witnesses for the prosecution, including four accusers. Those women provided graphic accounts of how they say Maxwell “groomed” them to have sex with Epstein or pressured them into massages, in which she sometimes groped them herself.

Maxwell is accused of helping Epstein recruit and sexually abuse the young girls, mostly in the 1990s. She has pleaded not guilty to all six charges related to conspiring with Epstein, a convicted sex offender who hanged himself in a New York City jail in 2019 as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges.

“She manipulated her victims and groomed them,” Moe told the jury. “She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable.”

Maxwell, who has been jailed since her arrest in July 2020, declined to testify in her own defense before her lawyers wrapped up their case Friday, calling far fewer witnesses than they initially planned.

The defense contends she is being scapegoated by the prosecution because the government cannot go after Epstein, and that his accusers have been motivated by money from a settlement. During the trial, lawyers also tried to distance Maxwell from some of the accusations of sexual abuse made against Epstein, and hammered home that “she is not Jeffrey Epstein. She is not like Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit,” defense lawyer Laura Menninger said during her closing arguments.

Three of Maxwell’s accusers used pseudonyms in court. One of them, identified as Jane, said that she was 14 when Maxwell taught her how to sexually satisfy Epstein and that they trafficked her to other powerful men.

Another witness for the prosecution, Juan Alessi, said he worked at Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, home from about 1990 to 2002. He told the jury that he saw “many, many, many females” at the estate and that it was Maxwell who exerted control as the “lady of the house.”

Maxwell was key to Epstein’s operation, Moe argued Monday, saying she and Epstein shared a “little black book” that had the phone numbers of young women for massages and that Maxwell “ran the same playbook again, again and again.”

Maxwell, the daughter of the publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, was attentive while the prosecutor spoke, taking notes and at times looking over to the jury. Her four siblings earlier linked arms in support of their sister when they arrived at the courthouse.

In her closing, Menninger defended the testimony last week of a psychology professor and memory expert, citing instances in which Maxwell’s accusers never mentioned the defendant’s name when they first spoke about the abuse they endured from Epstein.

Menninger said the accusers’ testimony was manipulated by their civil lawyers, who are pursuing millions of dollars in payouts for them from a special fund set up after Epstein’s suicide to compensate his victims.

Menninger said the women suddenly “recovered memories that Ghislaine was there.”

Closing arguments were expected to conclude Monday afternoon. Jurors could reach a verdict before Christmas, when Maxwell turns 60, and she faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted.

This is a breaking news story, please check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed.

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