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NPR National News

Ghislaine Maxwell portrayed as both predator and innocent woman at closing arguments

In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits at the defense table with defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca while listening to testimony in her sex abuse trial on Dec. 16, 2021, in New York.
Elizabeth Williams
/
AP
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits at the defense table with defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca while listening to testimony in her sex abuse trial on Dec. 16, 2021, in New York.

NEW YORK — The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell speeded to a finish Monday with a prosecutor labeling her a dangerous and sophisticated predator who recruited and groomed teenage girls to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein while a defense attorney told jurors during closing arguments that Maxwell is an "innocent woman."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said Epstein could not have preyed on teenage girls for more than a decade without the help of the British socialite, who she described as the "lady of the house" as Epstein abused girls at a New York mansion, a Florida estate and a New Mexico ranch.

"Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous," Moe told jurors, saying Maxwell accepted over $30 million from Epstein over the years. "Maxwell and Epstein committed horrifying crimes."

Defense lawyer Laura Menninger said prosecutors had failed to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit," Menninger said.

That portrayal conflicted with Moe's depiction of Maxwell as a "sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing. She ran the same playbook again and again and again."

"She manipulated her victims and groomed them. She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable," Moe said.

The summations came at the start of the fourth week of a trial that was originally projected to last six weeks. With a coronavirus outbreak in New York worsening by the day and a holiday weekend ahead, Judge Alison J. Nathan urged lawyers to keep their closings tight so the jury could begin deliberating as early as Monday.

Menninger's closing revisited a theme defense attorneys pressed at the trial's start: that Maxwell was made a scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail cell in August 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

"Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein," Menninger said.

Maxwell, 59, was supported in court by four siblings who sat next to one another in the first row of spectators.

Maxwell has been jailed without bail since her arrest in July 2020. The judge has denied her bail repeatedly, despite her lawyer's arguments that the pledge of her $22.5 million estate and a willingness to be watched 24 hours a day by armed guards would guarantee her appearance in court.

The closings came after two dozen prosecution witnesses testified, including four women who say they were abused by Epstein with the help of Maxwell when they were teenagers.

Moe faced the jury as Maxwell, in a white sweater, sat behind her at the defense table and wrote notes, occasionally turning the pages of a notebook. Later, Maxwell turned in her chair toward the jury, sometimes pulling down her black mask to sip from a water bottle.

The prosecutor told jurors that Maxwell was a "posh, smiling age-appropriate woman" who provided cover for Epstein's "creepy" behavior.

She asked them to ignore the testimony of a psychology professor who testified for the defense, saying the testimony that memories can fade over time and be influenced by what people hear, see or read was a "total distraction."

"These women know what happened to their own bodies," she said. "Your common sense tells you that being molested is something you never forget, ever."

But Menninger defended the testimony of the memory expert, citing instances in which Maxwell's accusers never mentioned the defendant's name when they first spoke of the abuse they endured from Epstein.

She said the testimony from accusers was manipulated by civil lawyers representing them as they pursued millions of dollars in payouts 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."

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