Ghislaine Maxwell trial: Why early questions from the jury look promising for the defence

The jury in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex abuse trial on Tuesday asked for more details about the account one of her accusers gave to the FBI which the defence claimed differed from her testimony on the stand.

The 12 jurors in federal court in Manhattan began deliberations late on Monday afternoon after three weeks of emotional testimony from four women who accused Ms Maxwell of grooming them for Jeffrey Epstein to abuse. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In a note to US District Judge Alison Nathan shortly after Tuesday’s session began, jurors asked for a portion of a deposition that one of the four alleged victims, Carolyn, gave to the FBI.

The defence, which appeared animated as they gathered around a laptop with Ms Maxwell (wearing an all-black ensemble) would likely have been pleased by the jury’s inquiry. 

During the trial, Ms Maxwell’s defence attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca questioned Carolyn about the deposition on cross-examination, asking why her testimony in some instances differed from what she had told law enforcement years earlier.

Ms Maxwell’s attorneys repeatedly accused Carolyn of inconsistencies in the account she gave to government authorities in 2007 during its first investigation of Epstein.

The deposition itself was never entered into evidence as part of the trial, so Judge Nathan said she could not provide them with it. She said they can review the transcript of Carolyn’s testimony about the deposition.

Carolyn’s case underlies sex-trafficking charge

Carolyn told the jury she was sexually abused for years by Ms Maxwell’s then-boyfriend Epstein beginning when she was 14 years old after being introduced to the British socialite, 59, at the financier’s Palm Beach home.

"Carolyn" answers questions from Maurene Comey during the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

Credit: JANE ROSENBERG/REUTERS

Two of the criminal counts in the indictment, sex-trafficking conspiracy and sex-trafficking of a minor, are based on Carolyn’s allegations.

Carolyn’s case underlies the sex-trafficking charge against Ms Maxwell, since she said Ms Maxwell sometimes handed her cash after she gave Epstein erotic massages and sent her gifts from out of state. The sex-trafficking charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years, the heaviest of the six counts.

The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell

Heated back and forth between defence and prosecution

Earlier in the morning, the jurors also asked the court for copies of the testimony of three of the accusers, including Carolyn, Annie Farmer, and "Jane", so they could review their accounts, in what could be seen as another positive sign for Ms Maxwell. The British socialite looked relaxed and happy at the morning’s developments, and at one point received a shoulder rub from her attorney Bobbi Sternheim.

However, the jury later came back with a third question on whether they could consider the testimony of Ms Farmer, who claims she was massaged naked by Ms Maxwell, in one of the six charges.

There was a heated back and forth between the defence and prosecution on what the judge should instruct them.

Maurene Comey, for the Government, told the judge: “A one-word answer would be correct here. They asked a very simple ‘yes’ ‘no’ question, the answer is ‘yes’.”

Christian Everdell for Ms Maxwell tried, unsuccessfully, to argue that the issue was more complicated. Ms Farmer was one of the prosecution’s most compelling witnesses, whose story has remained consistent over the years.

The jury broke for the day on Tuesday at 5pm after eight hours of deliberation. They will return on Wednesday at 9am local time.

The jury receive their instructions before beginning deliberations

Credit: JANE ROSENBERG/REUTERS

It is usually good for a defendant if a jury takes its time in considerations rather than rushing to judgement. But it also could demonstrate the difficulty the jurors are having in comprehending the charges.

So complex are they that it took the judge one-and-a-half hours to read out the 83 pages of instructions she had for the jury on Monday.

Confusing matters, counts one and three refer to three of the four accusers – "Jane", Carolyn and Annie. Counts two and four only refer to "Jane", while counts five and six refer to Carolyn. British alleged victim "Kate" does not feature in the updated charges because she was aged 17 and was over the age of consent at the time of her allegations.

Counts one through five carry between 5- to 10-year maximum sentences. Count six – the sex-trafficking of an individual under the age of 18 – carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.

The judge also agreed to change the language from "minor" to "individuals under the age of 18".

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