Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty on five of six counts, as US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been convicted of helping American financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls.
The verdict capped a month-long trial featuring sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teenagers in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s homes in Florida, New York and New Mexico.
Jurors deliberated for five full days before finding Maxwell guilty of five of six counts.
Maxwell faces the likelihood of at least 40 years behind bars - an outcome long sought by women who spent years fighting in civil courts to hold Maxwell accountable for her role in recruiting and grooming Epstein’s teenage victims and sometimes joining in the sexual abuse.
As the verdict was read, Maxwell appeared to show little reaction behind a black mask.
She stood with her hands folded as the jury filed out, and glanced at her siblings as she herself was led from the courtroom, but was otherwise emotionless.
In a statement posted to Twitter early on Thursday morning, Maxwell’s family said they were "very disappointed" with the verdict and had already begun the appeal process.
A statement from the US attorney’s office described Maxwell's crime as "one of the worst imaginable."
"The road to justice has been far too long but today, justice has been done," said US attorney Damian Williams.
"I want to commend the bravery of the girls – now grown women – who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom.
"Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible."
During testimony, Maxwell was described as a central component to Epstein’s plans by luring young girls to massage rooms to be molested by the disgraced financier.
The trial heard how she summoned a 14-year-old girl to an orgy, groped another victim and laid a schoolgirl outfit out for a third accuser before a sexualised massage with Epstein because she “thought it would be fun”.
The defendant also asked one of her accusers to undress for a massage and left her “frozen” after rubbing her breasts.
Prosecutors called her the “lady of the house” from 1994 to 2004 - during that time, Maxwell was romantically involved with and then later worked for Epstein.
However, Maxwell’s defence lawyers claimed she was a US government scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in the Manhattan federal jail cell where he was awaiting his own sex trafficking trial in August 2019.
They argued the memories of her accusers were corrupted by the passage of time and the influence of lawyers steering them toward multimillion-dollar payouts from a fund set up to compensate Epstein victims.
Maxwell spent her 60th birthday behind bars on Christmas Day, as jurors could not reach a verdict.
They began deliberation late on December 20 when closing arguments finished, continuing into December 21 and 22, before they were sent home for the Christmas holidays.
They resumed deliberations on Monday and Tuesday, before finally reaching a verdict on Wednesday, after requesting the transcripts of some trial testimony and the definition of “incitement.”
She will be sentenced on a date yet to be confirmed.
What charges did Maxwell face?
Maxwell was tried on six charges related to the sex trafficking of underage girls.
The charges are: conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors; and sex trafficking of minors.
Maxwell was found guilty on five out of the six charges. She was found not guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
She is also facing two counts of perjury, which will be dealt with at a separate trial.
What did we learn from the prosecution’s case?
The trial heard from four female accusers - Annie Farmer, who was 16 when she met Maxwell, and was the only one of the four to have testified using her full name.
The other three women testified under the pseudonyms Jane, Kate and Carolyn.
Annie Farmer told the court that Maxwell told her to undress for a massage and was left “frozen” after the socialite rubbed her breasts.
Ms Farmer told jurors: “(Maxwell) asked me if I had ever had a professional massage and talked about what a lovely experience it was.
“She wanted me to have that experience and she would be happy to give me a massage and encouraged me to say yes.”
The witness, who now works as a therapist, told the court that Maxwell started “rubbing my body and rubbing my back and my legs” and she then “pulled my sheet down and exposed my chest and rubbed my chest and my upper breasts”.
Ms Farmer added: “I was surprised. I wanted so badly to get off the table and have this massage be done. I was fearful… I had this sense that Epstein could see me.”
She told jurors Epstein had “caressed” her hand at the cinema and got into bed with her at his New Mexico ranch because he “wanted a cuddle”.
“The other memory I have is being in bed in the morning and suddenly Epstein opened my door in this playful way and said he wanted to cuddle, and climbed into bed with me and reached his arms around me and pressed his body into me,” Ms Farmer told the court.
Jane told the court that she was summoned by Maxwell and Epstein for an orgy at the age of just 14 in 1994.
She told jurors Epstein would use sex toys on her “even though it hurt” and said he and Maxwell would “fondle” each other while “casually giggling” in front of her.
Jane said she was left “frozen with fear” after her encounters with the couple, and under cross-examination, she told the jury she did “not believe I have come up with a memory” of being sexually abused.
Kate told the court she was presented with massage oils at Maxwell’s London town house when she was 17 and told to “have a good time” before giving Epstein a sexualised massage.
The British accuser also said she was invited to Epstein’s house in Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 18 and that Maxwell had laid a schoolgirl outfit out for her to wear because she “thought it would be fun”.
After sexualised massages with Epstein, Kate said Maxwell had called her “such a good girl”, describing her as one of the disgraced financier’s favourites.
Carolyn told the jury Maxwell groped her at the age of 14 after she told the defendant about being molested and raped at the age of four.
Maxwell allegedly told Carolyn she had a “great body for Epstein and his friends” after touching her breasts in his massage room.
The witness told jurors she stopped seeing Epstein for massages at the age of 18 because she had become “too old” for him.
The court also heard from Juan Patricio Alessi, the former housekeeper for Epstein at his Palm Beach house. He told jurors he drove alleged victim Jane and Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Roberts to the house under orders from Maxwell when they were 14 to 15 years old.
The Duke of York has always vehemently denied the allegations against him.
He also said staff were given a “household manual” which told them to “see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing” and to never disclose Maxwell and Epstein’s activities or whereabouts to anyone.
What was Maxwell’s defence?
Lawyers for Maxwell argued that the US government investigators were seeking a scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in a federal jail and the women’s recollections of abuse by Epstein and Maxwell were flawed memories manipulated two decades or more later by civil lawyers seeking payouts.
Defence lawyer Laura Menninger said prosecutors had failed to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt: “Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit.”
“Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Ms Menninger stated plainly.
Her lawyers called a former office worker for Epstein to the stand, who told jurors she did not witness misconduct by Maxwell while working closely with her for six years and an ex-girlfriend of Epstein who told the jury that she trusted the financier with her young daughters.
Before the defence rested their case, Maxwell was asked if she wanted to testify, but declined.
“Your honour, the government has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt so there is no reason for me to testify,” Maxwell responded.
How many years does Maxwell face behind bars?
Maxwell was convicted of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, which carries a statutory maximum of 40 years in prison.
Her conviction for transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, while conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity carries a maximum of five years in prison.
The final charge of sex trafficking minors carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison.
Despite the maximum terms for each conviction, her sentence will be up to the sole discretion of the judge.