Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers gave opening statements in her child-sex-trafficking trial on Monday.
They say she's being unfairly blamed for Jeffrey Epstein's crimes since he died before his trial.
Prosecutors gave their own opening statements earlier in the day. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty.
NEW YORK — Defense attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell sought to tear apart the child-sex-trafficking case against their client on Monday, arguing in opening statements that the entire indictment is a sideshow after the US Justice Department let Jeffrey Epstein die in jail.
"Epstein's death left a gaping hole for the pursuit of justice for those women," defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said in court on Monday, referring to the four accusers in Maxwell's indictment. "She is filling that hole and filling that chair."
The defense's opening statements, at the start of the trial held in federal court in downtown Manhattan, follow a barrage of accusations from prosecutors earlier in the afternoon. Prosecutors allege Maxwell trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex, in concert with the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and sexually abused the girls herself.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and denied all wrongdoing. If she's convicted on all charges, Maxwell, 59, could face a sentence of up to 80 years in prison.
Sternheim began her statements by comparing Maxwell to the biblical Eve, claiming she was "blamed for the behavior of bad men."
She said that, while Maxwell had a close relationship with Epstein, he was a "manipulator" who "compartmentalized" his life, and Maxwell had no part in any wrongdoing. Sternheim heaped praise on Epstein's "charisma" and "charm," calling him "a 21st century James Bond," and suggested that he was much like the other wealthy and accomplished people an Oxford University graduate like Maxwell hobnobbed with.
Maxwell sat wearing a cream sweater and black skirt at the far left end of the defense table, facing the judge. Sternheim, in thick-rimmed glasses and a billowy-collared white shirt under a black suit, spoke forcefully from inside a plexiglass box where attorneys were designated to stand while they spoke to the jurors.
In her opening statement, Sternheim claimed that the four accusers in the trial were not to be believed. She claimed that they were manipulated by attorneys who helped them with civil lawsuits brought against Epstein and people close to him, and embellished their claims to get large settlements or payouts from the Epstein Victims' Compensation Program.
In court filings before the trial, Maxwell's attorneys argued that prosecutors only went after her because the wealthy and well-connected Epstein died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on similar charges. Defense attorneys have also argued that prosecutors waited too long to bring the charges, which relate to events that happened between 1994 and 2004.
The indictment against Maxwell alleges she and Epstein ran the child sex-trafficking operation together, and some of the prosecutors who brought charges against Epstein are also assigned to Maxwell's case. Maxwell's attorneys and family members have argued that her decades-long relationship with Epstein has been overstated.
Epstein's death has been an embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons, a division of the US Justice Department that oversees federal jails. The Metropolitan Correctional Center, the Manhattan federal jail where Epstein killed himself, was closed earlier this year following numerous scandals.
Maxwell, who was arrested in July 2020, has been locked up in Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center ever since. Her lawyers have frequently complained about the jail's poor conditions and have said that Maxwell was not given adequate space and time to review evidence in her case prior to trial.
Her trial is expected to last up to six weeks.
This article has been updated.
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