Lawyers have completed their closing arguments in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial. In the prosecution’s final rebuttal on Monday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey winnowed the jury’s charge down to a single notion, referring to the four women who came forward as accusers: “If you believe those witnesses, then that’s it; the defendant is guilty,” she said.
But the evidence in this case was much more than he-said, she-said. In her fiery final statement, Comey tried to demonstrate why it was nearly impossible for the women to be lying. It was powerful rhetoric, but also had the effect of once again illustrating how easy it can be to dismiss sex-crime allegations, even when evidence supports them. After that, the judge gave the jury instructions to begin deliberations and decide whether to convict Maxwell of six counts related to sex trafficking and conspiracy for helping Jeffrey Epstein procure underage girls. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Earlier that day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe kicked off Monday’s proceedings with the initial closing statement for the prosecution. “Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous,” she said. “She was a grown woman who preyed on vulnerable kids.” Moe highlighted Maxwell’s closeness to Epstein and her complicity in his abuse. She called the testimony of the defense’s false-memory expert, Elizabeth Loftus, a “total distraction,” noting that Loftus herself said on cross-examination that the “core memory of trauma is stronger than other types of memory.”
Epstein “liked underage girls,” Moe said. “He liked to touch underage girls, and Ghislaine Maxwell knew it.” And as the so-called “lady of the house,” as former employee Juan Alessi had described her, Moe said Maxwell was not only aware of what was happening but also intimately involved in the processes of the abuse. This was illustrated by the booklet of rules Alessi said she’d distributed to house staff that instructed them to “see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing,” and included a shopping list of 13 different massage oils and lotions. “She managed all of the details,” Moe said. “Right down to the lotions and oils.”
As Moe spoke to the jury, her back was to Maxwell, who busied herself shuffling papers and taking notes for a while, before staring over her black mask into the middle distance. Moe recalled the stages of “grooming,” as expert prosecution witness Lisa Rocchio had described them and as she claimed Epstein and Maxwell had executed them. “It is not an accident that Jane and Kate and Carolyn and Annie came from single-parent households that were struggling in different ways,” she said. Once they’d chosen their victims, she said, Maxwell and Epstein would get the girls alone, desensitize them to touch and sexual activity, and then control them to continue abusing them.
Details from the four accusers’ testimonies had been corroborated by additional witnesses like Alessi, three of the women’s former boyfriends, and law-enforcement officers who searched Epstein’s house and spoke to the witnesses, Moe said. Beyond that, the jury had seen phone-message records, the household manual, a little black book containing victims’ names, FedEx invoices, and bank records showing Epstein paid Maxwell $30.7 million during and shortly after the years of the abuse alleged by the four victims. “She knew. She was complicit. She is guilty,” Moe said.
The accusers have already been awarded millions of dollars, Moe said. Their civil cases are over. The witnesses have testified they have no financial stake in the verdict, and their stories are backed by documentation and other witnesses’ corroborating testimony, she said.
That didn’t stop Maxwell’s lawyer Laura Menninger from arguing that after Epstein had died “everyone lawyered up.” The women’s stories changed over time, she said, as they “watched media, shared their stories, and talked with lawyers.” Their memories had been manipulated in pursuit of money. “Memory fades over time,” she said. “It can be manipulated, and money is a great manipulator.”
She accused the prosecution of not presenting enough evidence to support its case and aimed once more to discredit the witnesses. She called Alessi, who’d confessed to stealing from Epstein, a “two-time burglar obviously with an axe to grind.” She reserved particular ire for the witness known as Jane, telling the jury not to be fooled by claims that Jane may have struggled emotionally to disclose details of her abuse over the years, noting that she had two lawyers who were men and seemingly “no difficulty” disclosing details to them during a civil suit. Jane had testified “like an actress who forgot her lines,” she said, adding that when Jane had answered questions, her body language had shown uncertainty and hesitation.
Menninger brought up worthwhile questions, like why the women allegedly taking part in orgies with a 14-year-old Jane hadn’t considered calling the police. Menninger suggested this was further evidence that Jane was lying, rather than possible evidence of additional co-conspirators in the abuse. She also implied a defense witness could not have taken part in orgies because she is now “a housewife.”
When Annie Farmer had visited Epstein and Maxwell in New Mexico, where Farmer claimed Maxwell had rubbed her breasts and showed her how to rub Epstein’s feet, Menninger suggested Farmer’s arrival had been a surprise. “Imagine being Ghislaine,” she said to the jurors. Maxwell gave Farmer a tour of the ranch and bought her cowboy boots to entertain the child, not groom her, she argued.
She argued that Maxwell hadn’t targeted the girls because they’d met Epstein through a sister, a friend, a roommate, and on their own. Maxwell was too successful, too beautiful, too educated a woman to fall into facilitating sexual abuse for one man, she said. At the same time, Menninger said, Epstein had manipulated Maxwell, seeing other women behind her back. Testimony showed he had assistants send flowers to other women and ordered Alessi to take down pictures of Maxwell in the house when other women would come over. “Everyone knew Jeffrey was keeping secrets from Ghislaine besides Ghislaine,” she said.
She asked the jury to hesitate over factors like victims changing stories, the absence of more testimony from victims’ relatives, and what the defense views as a lack of evidence, like no pictures of Maxwell with the victims or proof that Epstein had paid for Jane’s summer-camp sessions at Interlochen, an elite children’s arts program to which he had also donated large sums. “Justice demands you acquit Ghislaine Maxwell,” she said.
Comey finished out the afternoon with her impassioned rebuttal on behalf of the prosecution. The core of the defense’s argument is that you can’t believe the four women, she said. “Never mind that they corroborate each other or the mountain of evidence that backs them up.”
She said it was absurd for Maxwell to claim she didn’t know her boyfriend and best friend of a decade had “a thing” for young girls. “She knew her boyfriend was spending time with teenage girls,” she said. “He was doing it because he was attracted to them. He wanted to have sex with them.”
The millions of dollars Epstein gave Maxwell wasn’t just a standard bank transfer to his house manager to move money around, she posited. “The 30 million is ‘We molested kids together’ money.”
The similarities among the victims’ stories is what makes their testimonies most credible, Comey continued, noting that three women said Maxwell had touched their breasts, and all described massages that escalated into sex acts. Each witness’ testimony was “powerful corroboration” for the others, she said.
Comey used a dark analogy of Thanksgiving memories to ask the jury to understand what it must be like to try to recall details of recurring sexual abuse. Looking back on Thanksgiving during your teenage years, you might not be able to remember which year a neighbor visited or which year you ruined a pie, but you know there was turkey, because that happened every time. “Difficulty remembering certain things doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” she said. “Carolyn remembers Maxwell as a fixture at Epstein’s house, like the stuffing on Thanksgiving: there every time.”
Further, Comey said, the defense’s theory that the women all lied to make money didn’t make sense. Carolyn had named Maxwell to the FBI as early as 2007. Besides, Comey argued, it didn’t add up that four different lawyers had begun convincing their clients to perjure themselves in a federal trial in service of some payments that would already be made by then — and when one was working pro bono. Wouldn’t the women take their millions and skip out on the testimony? Plus, they’d have needed to get Farmer’s mom and three of the women’s ex-boyfriends in on the lie, too. And if you believed they were risking it all, wouldn’t they have told a more elaborate lie? Why would Farmer be careful to say Maxwell didn’t touch her nipples? Why would Jane specify that Maxwell had never witnessed intercourse or oral sex with Epstein? They should have implicated her more deeply, Comey argued. “If these four women wanted to dirty Maxwell up for a huge payday, they would’ve told way bigger lies,” she said. But they testified “for justice,” she added, “in hopes that the defendant will be held accountable for her role in shattering their lives.”
It’s a familiar “believe women” refrain, and a compelling argument for why on earth these women would be here if they were liars. But that’s often the case. Testifying about sex crimes is grueling, but that doesn’t stop people from disbelieving victims over and over. The coming days will reveal what this jury believes in this case.
From Rolling Stone US