Ghislaine Maxwell to spend Christmas, her 60th birthday, behind bars

Ghislaine Maxwell is accused of recruiting and grooming young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Ghislaine Maxwell will spend Christmas Day - her 60th birthday - behind bars, after the jury in her sex crimes trial suspended deliberations on Wednesday (Dec 22) without reaching a verdict.

The 12-person jury began considering Maxwell's fate on Monday after a three-week trial and has since met for two full days to weigh the charges against her.

Judge Alison Nathan granted a request from the jurors that they take Thursday off and told them to return on Monday, after the Christmas holiday.

Maxwell, the daughter of former British newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, is accused of recruiting and grooming young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein.

She faces an effective life sentence if convicted of the charges, one of which is conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor that carries a maximum 40-year prison sentence.

At one point on Wednesday, the jury asked the judge for the transcript of the testimony of the former manager of Epstein's property in Palm Beach, Florida.

The jury has also asked the judge for transcripts of the testimony of the four women who testified against Maxwell during her high-profile trial.

The jury must reach a unanimous decision on each of the six counts facing Maxwell. If they cannot agree, then the judge could declare a mistrial.

The charges against Maxwell stem from 1994 to 2004. Two of Epstein's alleged victims said they were as young as 14 when Maxwell allegedly began grooming them and arranging for them to give massages to Epstein that ended in sexual activity.

One, identified only as "Jane", detailed how Maxwell recruited her at summer camp and made her feel "special". She said sexual encounters with Epstein became routine, with Maxwell sometimes present.

Another, going by "Carolyn," said she was usually paid US$300 (S$410) after sexual encounters with Epstein, often by Maxwell herself.

A third alleged victim was Annie Farmer, now 42, who said Maxwell fondled her breasts when she was a teenager at the New Mexico ranch owned by Epstein.

Epstein, 66, killed himself in jail in 2019 while awaiting his own sex crimes trial. Maxwell was arrested the following year and has been held in prison after prosecutors deemed her to be a flight risk.

'Sophisticated predator'

During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Maxwell as a "sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing". Prosecutor Alison Moe said she was "the key" to Epstein's scheme of enticing young girls to give him massages, during which he would sexually abuse them.

"Epstein liked underaged girls, he liked to touch underaged girls. Maxwell knew that," Ms Moe charged, recalling that three of the four victims testified that Maxwell had participated in the sexual acts, touching their breasts.

Ms Moe also said that Maxwell had been the "lady of the house" at Epstein's properties, handling every detail, including picking the lotions and oils for the massages, which always ended in sexual acts.

Maxwell "was Epstein's partner in crime", said Ms Moe. "It is time to hold her accountable."

Maxwell's defence team countered that there was a lack of evidence to convict and questioned the accusers' ability to recollect quarter-century-old events.

The team also argued that Maxwell was being used as a "scapegoat" for Epstein's crimes after he evaded justice.

Maxwell declined to take the stand but made a brief statement to the judge on Friday.

"Your honour, the government has not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt so there is no need for me to testify," she said.

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