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COVID-19 Coverage

Jury finds Maxwell guilty of helping Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse girls

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ghislaine Maxwell could spend the rest of her life in prison. The British socialite had been charged with assisting financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in his sexual abuse of minors, and she was found guilty yesterday. Damian Williams is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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DAMIAN WILLIAMS: 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 today's result and this case possible.

INSKEEP: Their testimony was at the center of a trial that captured the attention of the world. Maxwell and Epstein's circle of friends and acquaintances included the rich and powerful and famous. And though he died while in prison in 2019, she faced trial. NPR's Jasmine Garsd covered the whole thing and is on the line. Good morning.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So she was found guilty. What were the charges here?

GARSD: Sure. So she was found guilty of five out of the six counts that she was charged with, and that includes charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy to entice a minor into interstate travel for sex. She could face up to 65 years in prison now.

INSKEEP: And what was it like when that verdict was read?

GARSD: There was a lot of relief. As you know, New York City is experiencing a historic peak in COVID-19 infections, and there was a lot of concern over jury members getting sick and the possibility of a mistrial. In fact, Judge Alison Nathan asked the jury to deliberate over the weekend if need be. It didn't come to that. As for Maxwell herself, she seemed calm. Her lawyers simply requested that she get a booster.

INSKEEP: That's remarkable to think about - the judge asking the jury to be sure and hurry up and get their verdict together before some of them were knocked out of the action.

Now let's talk about the trial on which they gave this verdict. What arguments did the prosecution present?

GARSD: Well, the prosecution painted a picture of Ghislaine Maxwell as a predator who was essential in enabling Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse of minors. Throughout the trial, they put four abuse survivors on the stand who recounted how Maxwell befriended them when they were minors and presented herself as a cool, stylish older sister. And in time, the prosecution argued, she normalized the sexual abuse. She even participated in it, the process that is known as grooming. And all of the women, who are now adults, say she and Epstein promised to help them with their education and their careers.

INSKEEP: How did the defense respond?

GARSD: The defense portrayed a very different Ghislaine Maxwell. They positioned her as a woman taking the fall for a man. They even began their statements by telling the biblical story of Eve taking the blame for Adam. And Maxwell, they argued, was on trial in Epstein's place. But the core argument was about the unreliability of human memory. In cross-examination, they questioned every single accuser on how clear their memories could possibly be 20 years after the abuse happened. And finally, they talked about money. Over and over again, they implied that the motivations of the accusers to come forward were monetary.

INSKEEP: Jasmine, I just want to note - you sat through weeks of testimony. A lot of it surely was excruciating. What impressions did you take away?

GARSD: The prosecution presented an unrefutably (ph) emotional testimony, victims saying how their lives had been - just the damage done by this abuse. And it seems that it was very hard to go against that.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

GARSD: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.