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Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking case in hands of jury

The six men and six women must weigh whether the close confidant of Jeffrey Epstein conspired to help him sexually abuse young girls.

The fate of Ghislaine Maxwell was placed with a jury Monday after prosecutors clashed with defense attorneys for more than four hours during closing arguments of her federal sex trafficking trial.

The government cast Maxwell as a "dangerous" predator who enabled longtime confidant Jeffrey Epstein, a stark contrast from the "innocent woman" her lawyers have portrayed.

The six men and six women could reach a verdict before Christmas, when Maxwell turns 60. The disgraced British socialite, who once cultivated a jetsetter persona and moved in high-profile political and celebrity circles, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on six counts stemming from her alleged role targeting and conditioning girls and young women for Epstein to sexually abuse.

"Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said, depicting her as a "sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing."

The highly anticipated trial opened three weeks ago in lower Manhattan with the jury hearing from two dozen witnesses for the prosecution, including four accusers. Those women provided graphic accounts of how they say Maxwell "groomed" them to have sex with Epstein or pressured them into massages, in which she sometimes groped them herself.

Maxwell is accused of helping recruit and engage in trafficking of the young girls, mostly in the 1990s. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges related to conspiring with Epstein, a convicted sex offender who hanged himself in a New York City jail in 2019 as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges.

"She manipulated her victims and groomed them," Moe told the jury. "She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable."

Maxwell, who has been jailed since her arrest in July 2020, declined to testify in her own defense before her lawyers wrapped up their case Friday, calling far fewer witnesses than they initially planned.

The defense contends she is being scapegoated by the prosecution because the government cannot go after Epstein, and that his accusers have been motivated by money from a settlement. During the trial, lawyers also tried to distance Maxwell from some of the accusations of sexual abuse made against Epstein, and hammered home that although the pair had a friendship, Maxwell was also kept in the dark by the "master manipulator."

"Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit," defense lawyer Laura Menninger said during her closing arguments.

Three of Maxwell's accusers used pseudonyms in court. One of them, identified as Jane, said that she was 14 when Maxwell taught her how to sexually satisfy Epstein and that they trafficked her to other powerful men.

Another witness for the prosecution, Juan Alessi, said he worked at Epstein's Palm Beach, Florida, home from about 1990 to 2002. He told the jury that he saw "many, many, many females" at the estate and that it was Maxwell who exerted control as the "lady of the house."

Ghislaine Maxwell speaks with her attorneys in New York City on Dec. 17, 2021.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

Maxwell was key to Epstein's operation, Moe argued Monday, saying she and Epstein shared a "little black book" that had the phone numbers of young women for massages and that Maxwell "ran the same playbook again, again and again."

Maxwell, the daughter of the publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, was attentive while prosecutors spoke, taking notes and at times looking over to the jury. Her four siblings earlier linked arms in support of their sister when they arrived at the courthouse.

In her closing, Menninger picked apart testimony by the accusers, asking why there were inconsistencies in their stories over the years, and she backed a defense witness — a psychology professor and memory expert — citing instances in which Maxwell's accusers never mentioned the defendant's name when they first spoke about the abuse they endured from Epstein.

Menninger said the accusers' testimony was manipulated by their civil lawyers, who are pursuing millions of dollars in payouts for them from a special fund set up after Epstein's suicide to compensate his victims.

Menninger said the women suddenly "recovered memories that Ghislaine was there."