NEW YORK • A succession of women who say Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them voiced anger and defiance in a packed New York courtroom, expressing raw emotions during a dramatic hearing less than three weeks after the financier killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
"He showed the world what a depraved and cowardly human being he was by taking his own life," one of the women, Ms Sarah Ransome, said at the 21/2-hour hearing before US District Judge Richard Berman on Tuesday.
Another woman, Ms Chauntae Davies, told the court: "I will not let him win in death."
Federal prosecutors were at the hearing to ask the judge to formally dismiss their case against Epstein. One after another, the accusers then detailed Epstein's actions against them years ago. In all, 16 women testified, including six who did so without giving their names, and lawyers read statements from seven other women.
Epstein, who once counted US President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of girls as young as 14.
The 66-year-old was found dead on Aug 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan. An autopsy concluded that he had hanged himself.
Judge Berman, explaining why he let the women and their lawyers address the court, said it was "both because of their relevant experiences and because they should always be involved before, rather than after, the fact". After the hearing, he said "everyone has benefited greatly" from hearing from the women.
Prosecutors accused Epstein of arranging for girls to perform nude "massages" and other sex acts, and paying some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005.
Some of the women said he raped them. "The fact that I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at my soul," said Ms Jennifer Araoz.
Another accuser, Ms Courtney Wild, said: "I feel very angry and sad that justice has never been served in this case."
Ms Davies told the court Epstein hired her to give massages. She said he raped her the third or fourth time they met on his private island and continued to abuse her.
Judge Berman ordered prosecutors and defence lawyers for Epstein to appear in court after the Manhattan US Attorney's Office said it wanted to dismiss the indictment against the financier in the light of his jail cell death.
During the hearing, Mr Brad Edwards, who represents women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, said the financier's "untimely death" was "curious", adding: "More so, it makes it absolutely impossible for the victims to ever get the day in court that they wanted, and to get full justice."
Assistant US Attorney Maurene Comey said the law required the dismissal of the case in the light of Epstein's death, but said the government's investigation was ongoing.
"Dismissal of this indictment as to Jeffrey Epstein in no way prohibits or inhibits the government's ongoing investigation into potential co-conspirators," she added.
Epstein's death has triggered probes by the FBI, the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector-General and the Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention facility.
Epstein lawyers Reid Weingarten and Martin Weinberg said they had doubts about the finding that their client committed suicide. Epstein's arrest in New York came more than a decade after he avoided being prosecuted on similar federal charges in Florida by striking a deal that allowed him to plead guilty to state prostitution charges.