The judge in the Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking trial on Tuesday asked a juror a series of questions in court to find out whether Maxwell should be granted a new trial based on false information he provided during the jury selection process.
In December, Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six counts she was charged with related to procuring and trafficking young girls for sexual abuse by her one-time boyfriend and employer, the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The closely watched trial lasted a month and included testimony from 33 witnesses, including four women who accused Maxwell and Epstein of abuse.
Following the guilty verdict, one juror, who identified himself to press as Scotty David (his first and middle names), told The Independent and other publications he’d used his own experience as a sexual abuse survivor to influence deliberations. He said he’d talked about the nature of his own memory as it relates to traumatic events, an issue raised during the trial in relationship to witnesses’ credibility — and that he did not remember being asked about his abuse history during jury selection. In fact, potential jurors had been asked specifically about sexual abuse history in the questionnaire so that it could be discussed during the selection process as a source of possible bias. In response to this news, Maxwell’s team filed a motion in January for a new trial. The prosecution conceded the revelation warranted further inquiry.
As Judge Nathan emphasized in an opinion and order calling for Tuesday’s hearing, “the potential impropriety is not that someone with a history of sexual abuse may have served on the jury. Rather, it is the potential failure to respond truthfully to questions during the jury selection process that asked for that material information so that any potential bias could be explored.”
In the same opinion and order, Nathan said that “a review of his questionnaire showed that he had provided a negative response to a question that asked whether a prospective juror had been a victim of sexual abuse.” That revelation had been redacted in a footnote in a January filing by the prosecution about the juror issue, but Nathan has since announced she would unseal the juror’s questionnaire, making the redaction no longer necessary, she said. Nathan called Tuesday’s hearing to question the juror about the false information he provided during the selection process.
The juror retained a lawyer and in court filings indicated his intention to plead the Fifth during the hearing to prevent incriminating himself. On Monday night, the Department of Justice approved the prosecution’s request for immunity in order to compel the juror to testify. Tuesday morning, Judge Nathan explained that this meant David, known in court as Juror 50, would have to answer questions but that nothing he said could be used to prosecute him in federal court, even if his testimony indicated he had committed a crime. The exception, she said, was if he lied during the hearing. In that case, he could be charged with perjury.
Based on prior input from both sides, Nathan herself questioned the juror while he sat in the witness box. David said he’d been distracted and in a hurry to get out of the courthouse the day he filled out a jury questionnaire, but that he still served as an unbiased and impartial juror, despite having been sexually abused. The juror described his false statements on the questionnaire as an “inadvertent mistake.” “It was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life,” he said, adding that if he could go back and read the questionnaire more carefully, he would, “in a heartbeat.”
Nathan asked the juror about specific questions on the written questionnaire he’d filled out the first day of jury selection. The juror said the correct answer to whether he or a family member had ever been the victim of sexual abuse is actually yes, not no, as he’d indicated on the form. “I was abused as a child,” he said. “It was a family member who is no longer a part of the family and one of their friends when I was nine and ten years old.” The juror elaborated that his step-brother and his step-brother’s friend abused him multiple times. He told no one until high school, when he’d disclosed the abuse to his mother. He said his mom called the police but that no charges were ever filed. “It did not affect my ability to be fair and impartial at all,” he said.
He had also answered on the questionnaire that he was never a victim of a crime. He said while filling it out, he’d been thinking of crimes like being robbed or mugged. His childhood abuse had not occurred to him, he said. He added that he doesn’t even consider himself a victim anymore. “It’s part of my healing process,” he said. “It’s how I’ve dealt with the abuse.” He added that he’s never been robbed or mugged.
Because David’s abuser had been a family member, Judge Nathan asked about another question on the questionnaire that inquired whether a family member had ever been accused of sexual abuse. “I didn’t consider them part of my family,” he said, and added that the abuse was not on his mind while he rushed through the form. “I didn’t even consider it all,” he said. “I flew through the questionnaire. I never even thought I’d be picked.”
David, who is bald with a sandy-colored beard and mustache and wore a dark sweater over a button-down shirt in the witness box, described a tedious selection process, where he waited for hours in a room at the courthouse with what he assumed would be “thousands” of other potential jurors and no phone or book for entertainment. “I was sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, thinking about the breakup that had happened a few weeks prior,” he said, referring to the end of a romantic relationship in his life. “Just sitting in my feelings.”
Then, he said, technical issues had delayed the group’s viewing of a video by Nathan explaining the selection process. When they were finally filling out the questionnaire after what David describes as three hours of waiting, he said he felt distracted and rushed as people around him began asking questions, tearing off pages, and walking to the front of the room to turn in their forms. “I was like ‘I wanna finish,’” he says. “I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.”
At one point during the hearing, he noted that case sounded like one that would hold his attention. “If you’re gonna serve jury duty, it might as well be something interesting,” he said. “But I did not set out to get on this jury.” The judge asked him what he’d meant by that, he said, “Maybe a fraud case would be boring. I felt like this might be something interesting.”
In the lead-up to the trial, more than 600 potential jurors filled out a written questionnaire that asked questions including one about whether they or people they know had experienced sexual abuse and another about whether they’d ever been the victim of a crime. 231 people were chosen from the initial batch for in-person questioning to explore whether they could be biased against Maxwell, based on their responses on the questionnaire.
From Rolling Stone US