Maxwell lawyers open defense in sex crimes trial
New York (AFP) – Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers began their defense Thursday in her sex trafficking trial, calling the British socialite's former assistant as a witness in an attempt to discredit one of her accusers.
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The 59-year-old Maxwell is accused of grooming underage girls to be sexually exploited by her long-time partner Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy American financier who killed himself in jail two years ago while awaiting trial.
She has pleaded not guilty to six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
The first witness called by the defense was Cimberly Espinosa, who said she was hired when she was 28 years old in October 1996 to work as an administrative assistant with Epstein's legal team.
After about a month she switched to become Maxwell's assistant, Espinosa told the court, and she worked for Maxwell for six years, until the summer of 2002.
She said Maxwell was "demanding" but she "enjoyed the challenge" of working for her.
"I hugely respected Ghislaine," she said. "I looked up to her very much. I actually learned a lot from her.
"She treated me fair," Espinosa said. "It was nice and it was fun."
She said her duties included booking meetings, setting up calls and making dinner reservations.
Espinosa said Maxwell was "the estate manager in my mind" for Epstein’s several properties.
"Ghislaine was very important to Jeffrey," she said.
Espinosa was asked questions about "Jane," a woman who testified under a pseudonym about being recruited by Maxwell at a summer camp when she was 14 years old.
Jane said sexual encounters with Epstein became routine, with Maxwell sometimes present.
Espinosa said Jane would regularly come to the office and she felt she had a "loving relationship" with Epstein.
She said Jane's mother also regularly came to the office and referred to her daughter as Epstein's "god-daughter."
"She was kind of considered family and always treated with the utmost respect," Espinosa said. Jane, her mother and brothers regularly stayed at an apartment that Epstein owned in Manhattan, she said.
'A little flirty'
Espinosa testified that when she first starting working for Epstein in 1996 she thought he and Maxwell "were a couple."
"They were a little flirty," she said.
By the last two years of her employment, they had "kind of gone their separate ways," Espinosa added of the pair. "Ghislaine started dating other men."
Espinosa also testified that she believed Epstein was cheating on Maxwell with another woman who regularly visited him at his office.
She said many young women would visit him and some appeared to be around 18 years old.
Jane was one of four accusers called by the prosecution to testify against Maxwell.
Maxwell's attorneys intend to challenge the recollections of the four accusers by calling to the stand psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on "false memories."
Loftus told the sex abuse trials of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby that memories become distorted over time, particularly during questioning years later.
The defense has indicated that it plans to call 35 witnesses.
Maxwell's lawyers requested that three defense witnesses be allowed to testify using just their first names or a pseudonym but Judge Alison Nathan denied the motion.
Maxwell, the daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, faces an effective life sentence if convicted.
© 2021 AFP