After six days of deliberations, on Wednesday evening a federal jury found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty on five counts of facilitating Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse. Maxwell, sitting in front of a group of her siblings, registered little visible reaction as a judge read the verdict to her in a Manhattan courtroom.
“A unanimous jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable—facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “Crimes that she committed with her long-time partner and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein.”
The jury, which had been considering the case against Maxwell since closing arguments last week, ultimately found her guilty of five of the six charges prosecutors had brought. Jurors acquitted her of one count of enticing a minor to travel across state lines to engage in an illegal sexual act. Maxwell, 60, will face up to 65 years of prison time when sentenced.
Over three weeks of testimony, prosecutors sought to depict Maxwell as a linchpin in Epstein’s scheme to abuse underage girls. Her four accusers in the trial offered accounts of how Epstein sexually exploited them as teenagers—and how Maxwell recruited or groomed them for his abuse, sometimes participating in it herself. Photographs that the government entered into evidence showed Epstein and Maxwell embracing one another over the years, and former employees of the pair described her as his number two, tightly embedded in his everyday affairs.
“When you take a step back and you look at this timeline and think about the big picture,” U.S. assistant attorney Alison Moe said in her closing arguments on December 20, “it is crystal clear that Maxwell knew about and was deeply involved in Epstein’s sexual abuse of children.”
Throughout the trial, Maxwell’s defense tried to separate her from Epstein and argue that her accusers had falsely inserted her into their memories of Epstein’s abuse as a way to profit. “Jeffrey Epstein died and then everyone lawyered up,” defense attorney Laura Menninger said in her closing statement. “Every one of the accusers got themselves a lawyer before they first walked in, in September of 2019 in connection with this case, to talk to the FBI. You don’t need a lawyer to go talk to the FBI unless you want to get money.” (Each accuser testified that she had already received her award from the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund and had no financial stake in the outcome of the trial.)
Menninger argued that the government hadn’t proven Maxwell’s role in the scheme, and that her client had been unfairly tarred by association. “She’s being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein,” Menninger said. “Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime.”
Outside the Thurgood Marshall federal courthouse on Wednesday, Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim addressed the crowd that had filled the sidewalk as news of the verdict spread. “We firmly believe in Ghislaine’s innocence,” she said. “Obviously we are very disappointed with the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal, and we are confident she will be vindicated.”
The verdict comes two years after Epstein killed himself in a federal prison while awaiting trial, and three years after an investigative series by the Miami Herald, “Perversion of Justice,” prompted a flood of renewed attention towards Epstein. Reporter Julie K. Brown shed new light on the lenient deal Epstein received from prosecutors in 2008 after pleading guilty to soliciting a child for prostitution in Florida. Often, the focus turned towards the high-profile company Epstein kept, including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Prince Andrew.
Mysteries and conspiracy theories around the origins of Epstein’s wealth only heightened following his death. The trial, in its narrow focus on Maxwell’s alleged role in Epstein’s crimes, provided little in the way of answers. But as the proceedings wound down, the subject of Epstein and Maxwell’s money and associations remained unavoidable. Prosecutors had argued from the beginning of the trial that the pair preyed on vulnerable girls from struggling families.