NEW YORK — Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense team argued Monday in her sex trafficking trial that the women accusing Maxwell of grooming them to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein are motivated by money and have “contaminated” memories of their abuse by the late convicted pedophile.
The jury heard opening statements from the prosecution and Maxwell’s defense team Monday afternoon in Manhattan federal court. Each side offered a starkly different portrayal of Maxwell and her role in Epstein’s affairs, both business and personal.
Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim began the defense’s opening statement with a bizarre biblical reference that drew audible scoffs from some in the courtroom, saying that ever since Adam and Eve, women have shouldered more blame than men.
The defense stressed repeatedly that Epstein is not on trial — Maxwell is.
“She is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Sternheim said. “He is consuming this entire courtroom.”
Sternheim said Epstein’s sudden death in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 left a “gaping hole” in the desire for justice and accused the alleged victims of making Maxwell the “scapegoat” for Epstein’s crimes, a remark that drew an objection from the prosecution.
Maxwell’s trial is about “memory, manipulation, and money,” the defense said.
Maxwell’s accusers have “contaminated” and possibly “false” memories of their abuse, the defense said. Last week, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ruled that Maxwell could call a “false memory” expert, Elizabeth Loftus, who has testified in the trials of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, O.J. Simpson, and Ted Bundy.
Besides casting doubt on their credibility, the defense also questioned the motivations of the women who say Maxwell groomed them, saying they are motivated by money in going after Maxwell decades after the alleged abuse occurred.
“Ghislaine has been inserted into these stories as they reframe their stories for pay day,” Sternheim stated.
At one point, the defense said there are “many exceptional things” about Maxwell, such as her ability to pilot a helicopter, her education, and her extensive travels.
“She is being pegged as the rich girl,” Sternheim said.
Epstein likewise had “many positive traits” like his charisma and generosity and was a “21st century James Bond” of sorts, she said.
The prosecution meanwhile said the Maxwell knew exactly what she was doing when she targeted the minor girls and helped “normalize” Epstein’s “abusive sexual conduct,” resulting in “some of the most painful and private experiences of their childhood.” Maxwell herself participated personally in some of the sexual abuse, the prosecution said.
Maxwell appeared relaxed in the courtroom on Monday, wearing a cream-colored sweater with long sleeves and black pants. She let her face mask dangle as she whispered to her attorneys and drank coffee and water. At one point she clasped her hands together cheerfully as she discussed something with one of her attorneys. During the prosecution’s opening statement, Maxwell stopped taking notes and sat very still, turning slightly toward the jury. When she was left sitting by herself while her attorneys spoke with the judge at one point, she sank down in her chair and glanced back at the gallery.