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Top Takeaways from the First Week of Ghislaine Maxwell’s Sex Trafficking Trial

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein 3

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein

Just one week into Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial, common themes are beginning to strongly emerge, even though proceedings are expected to stretch for more than a month longer.

Earlier this week, Maxwell’s first accuser “Jane” wept on the witness stand recounting harrowing testimony accusing her of participating in Jeffrey Epstein’s childhood sexual abuse when she was 14 years old. Defense attorneys zealously attempted to undermine her decades-old memories by contrasting them with what she told law enforcement roughly two years ago, but multiple witnesses backed up important aspects of testimony.

Opening statements gave the jury and public sharply contrasting portrayals of the 59-year-old accused sex trafficker. Prosecutors described her as one of the “dangerous predators” who abused “Jane” and the other three women identified in the indictment as “Minor Victims.” Only one of them, Annie Farmer, has identified herself publicly to the press and in court documents.

The defense portrayed Maxwell as a “lightning rod” being used as a “stand-in” for Epstein, whom attorney Bobbi Sternheim compared to a “21st century James Bond.” She urged the jury to view the accounts by her client’s four accusers through the lens of “memory, manipulation and money” — and also the “media.”

Following through on that framing, her colleagues have attacked government witnesses as financially motivated and giving shifting accounts of their stories.

The Girl with the “Striking Powder-Blue Eyes”

The first week of Maxwell’s trial can be summarized in one word: “Jane.”

Testifying under a pseudonym to protect her privacy, “Jane” was the witness Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Elizabeth Pomerantz invoked in the debut line of her opening statement.

“I want to tell you about a young girl named Jane,” Pomerantz told the jury, immediately.

As she took the stand, “Jane’s” account matched the prosecutor’s preview. In 1994, “Jane” said that she was 14 years old attending a summer camp at Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen academy, where she was a young singer. A woman walked by with a “cute little Yorkie,” whom she learned was Maxwell’s dog. Epstein was with Maxwell, and the three of them struck up a conversation.

Interlochen's Jeffrey Epstein Scholarship Lodge

An executive at Interlochen, a prestigious arts academy for gifted youth in Michigan, identified this photograph as the building formerly known as the Jeffrey Epstein Scholarship Lodge. (Photo via DOJ)

Once Epstein and Maxwell learned that “Jane” was a Palm Beach resident, “Jane” said, Epstein asked for her mother’s number. This encounter led to a years-long parade of horrors, “Jane” testified.

“Jane” told jurors that the first of these encounters involved Epstein masturbating on her in a pool house. In other incidents, Maxwell touched her breast, and Epstein subjected her to “painful” abuse with a back massager being used as a sex toy, she charged.

On multiple occasions, “Jane” said, an “orgy” broke out with Epstein, Maxwell and other women in the room. She, like numerous Epstein accusers, testified about massages that allegedly escalated to sexual assault.

Most of the first government witnesses, including Epstein’s ex-pilot Lawrence Visoski and ex-house manager Juan Alessi, placed “Jane” with Epstein. Visoski remembered her as a “mature woman with some piercing powder blue eyes,”and Alessi also remarked on that feature in describing her as a “strikingly beautiful girl.”

In keeping with what Maxwell’s attorney characterized as the case’s core themes, defense attorneys grilled “Jane” and other witnesses about what they described as her shifting accounts of the years.

“Memory Is Not Linear”

During cross-examination, defense attorney Laura Menninger picked apart what she portrayed as inconsistencies with her story. “Jane” told law enforcement that Maxwell and Epstein took her to see “The Lion King” on Broadway in New York City, and she also said that she celebrated the late journalist Mike Wallace’s 80th birthday. The timeline of these events did not align with “Jane’s” story, Menninger suggested.

Trying to undermine “Jane’s” fondling accusation against Maxwell, Menninger said: “It is true that you do not recall Ghislaine ever touching you?”

“That’s not true,” she replied.

Menninger suggested the government’s unverified notes of the unrecorded meetings showed otherwise, but the defense attorney extracted some concessions from the witness. “Jane” said she did not recall whether she previously told the government she was not sure Maxwell ever kissed her.

“You told the government that Ghislaine never saw you perform oral sex on Epstein, correct?” Menninger asked.

“That’s correct,” she said.

At one point, a frustrated “Jane” noted: “Memory is not linear.” Defense attorneys depicted her as financially motivated, noting that her legal team reached a $5 million settlement with a compensation fund for Epstein victims. She received some $2.9 million of that amount. Menninger attacked her profession as an accomplished soap opera actress, suggesting she is seasoned at creating “melodrama” and can cry on command.

“No, not always,” she replied. “That not really how it works.”

On Friday, Maxwell’s other attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca disclosed “Jane’s” true name — and was admonished by U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan.

Law&Crime will not be identifying her, as she testified that, as a survivor of sexual assault, she does not wish to be identified.

“Up to Three Massages Per Day”

The allegations of Maxwell’s indictment span between 1994 to 2004, providing a challenge for the government in the admission of evidence and fading memories of witnesses. Given these hurdles, corroboration becomes crucial, and multiple witnesses backed up important elements of “Jane’s” story.

Visoski placed “Jane” on one of Epstein’s planes—significantly, on a flight whose itinerary included Traverse City, Mich., the nearest airport from the Interlochen school.

Jeffrey Epstein stands in front of his Gulfstream

The government entered this photograph of Jeffrey Epstein standing in front of his Gulfstream airplane into evidence during his ex-pilot’s testimony during the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. (Photo via DOJ)

Maxwell did have a cute little “Yorkie” named Max, who shook in terror when driving to Epstein’s plane, Alessi testified.

The Quito, Ecuador-born Alessi also recalled seeing “Jane” with Maxwell and Epstein, unaccompanied by her mother. Alessi testified about driving her around, and “Jane” testified that she recalled a “sweet Latin American man”

In less dramatic testimony, other witnesses authenticated other pieces of evidence backing up portions of “Jane’s” story. Daniel Besselsen, the assistant vice president of finance at Interlochen, testified that Epstein was a $200,000 donor to that arts academy. He also identified a photo of the Jeffrey Epstein Scholarship Lodge, which was since renamed the Green Lake Lodge.

Then there are, of course, the massages. Prosecutors have likened Epstein’s operation to a sexual “Pyramid scheme,” where minor girls allegedly would be recruited by Maxwell and others to perform massages on Epstein that would escalate into sexual assault. The alleged victims would then be paid to deliver other girl’s for Epstein’s abuse, prosecutors say.

Alessi said Epstein received “up to three massages per day.”

Jurors and spectators got to see Epstein’s green massage table during the testimony of Gregory Parkinson, who worked as a crime scene manager with the Palm Beach Police Department. He was called to authenticate a 40-minute video walk-through of the 2005 search of Epstein’s home and photographs of what was found in his estate, including a “sexualized” photo of a young girl.

The video was not shown to the public because of the photographs and the art, which Maxwell’s lawyer claimed created an impression that the house was some “domicile of debauchery” that she claimed to have been misleading. Other testimony and evidence would have suggested such a characterization was accurate.

“Jane” and Alessi both spoke of Epstein’s selection of vibrators, and Palm Beach Police Sgt. Michael Dawson—the week’s last witness—introduced a photograph of a box of one brand named the “Twin Torpedos.”

Alessi testified about one “large dildo” that he found: “It looked like a huge man’s penis, with two heads.”

Maxwell is now distancing herself from Epstein, and her lawyers have called her a “stand” in for the now-deceased pedophile, who was convicted in 2008 of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He was found dead in a federal jail before he could be prosecuted for sex trafficking.

The final law enforcement witnesses from Florida who wrapped up Week One of proceedings did not focus on Maxwell, but she was hardly an ancillary figure on the first week of proceedings. Visoski described her as Epstein’s “No. 2,” and Alessi called her the “lady of the house,” whom he said appeared to be with Epstein “95 percent of the time.”

(Photo from DOJ)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."