With witness Annie Farmer’s testimony of her treatment, at 14 years of age, at the behest of and occasionally quite literally in the hands of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein, the Southern District of New York’s prosecutors have briskly rested their case after just ten days. What the jury will make of the remarkable similarities in all four prosecution witnesses’ descriptions of precisely how Ghislaine Maxwell executed her alleged grooming as well as their accounts of her intimate, major role in the life of Jeffrey Epstein is up for grabs. But it’s fair to say that, for all of its attempts during cross-examination to undermine the government’s witnesses, the defense now faces its very own, special uphill climb in presenting their case for their client.
As has been clear since her 2020 arrest, Ghislaine Maxwell would be foolhardy to take the stand, but over the last few weeks of jousts before Judge Alison Nathan, what we can expect from the defense has grown more clear. They won’t present a full narrative combating the victims’ accounts to the jury, primarily because there isn’t one. More precisely, the only documented narrative available to Ghislaine Maxwell and her defenders is the fact of her deep, decades-long involvement with and service to Jeffrey Epstein as his undisputed right hand.
“Documented” means not just in the four victims’ now-sworn accounts but also in the accounts of the two other long-serving Epstein employees who testified for the prosecution, pilot Larry Visoski and Palm Beach butler Juan Alessi. It also means the extensive documentation found in Maxwell’s own deposition in the 2016 civil suit for defamation brought against her by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, and the Epstein plane fleet’s flight records, not to mention the varied law enforcement agencies’ evidence taken in searches of Epstein’s many houses as well as their search of Maxwell’s recently purchased New Hampshire hideout, aptly named “Tucked Away.”
In the face of this mountain of evidence, the prosecutors know with better-than-fair accuracy where Ghislaine Maxwell was, with whom she traveled, and what she is alleged to have done when she was with them. Now there are four women on the record, all under the age of consent at the time, who have spoken in grisly detail describing Maxwell’s alleged encouragement and delivery of them to Epstein. The point is that no defense team worth their salt — and Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense team doesn’t come cheap — would think of subjecting their client to take the stand in light of the sheer amount of intelligence the government has assembled for this proceeding, not to mention the second mountain of evidence against Maxwell on the two charges of perjury for which she has yet to be tried.
Anything can happen in the coming few weeks in Judge Nathan’s courtroom, but the defendant is not likely to change her plea. Because: Her efforts to mount her defense began long before her indictment. The Oxford-educated heiress is rapier smart and she could easily discern that she bore certain legal liabilities, first, as Epstein himself was indicted and convicted in Florida, and then as Virginia Roberts Giuffre launched her 2015-6 lawsuit against Maxwell for defamation. Naturally, Maxwell helped with Epstein’s social rehabilitation in New York in 2009-10 — an early life of sheer luxury and British upper-class privilege both in London and France insured for Maxwell a razor-sharp set of social skills. But by 2015, Maxwell was in the teeth of a superhuman effort to kick herself clear of the taint of long service to her former boyfriend/sugar-daddy, and the publicity surrounding Giuffre’s extraordinary defamation suit blew a good-sized chunk of that cover.
Launching her own ocean charity, TerraMar, in 2012, Maxwell had attempted with varying degrees of success to wash herself clean in the healing waters of philanthropy in New York and Los Angeles; she found a beau in Scott Borgerson and, according to her prosecutors, locked him down into a marriage; she moved with him to a posh, remote corner of Massachusetts. As her presence in the dock now broadcasts, with the second trial on perjury charges to come, that scrub-down didn’t work as had been planned.
It’s now Maxwell’s turn to mount her defense in the face of her raft of federal charges for trafficking and conspiracy. We have a fair idea going in: The defense will present no full, alternate “Ghislaine Maxwell” narrative as such, because there isn’t one, or more precisely, there is a narrative, but it’s deeply disadvantageous to the defendant in that she “loved” Epstein in her phase as his girlfriend, she served him long and truly as his right hand and lead social fixer, she was the mistress of his many houses, and she was well-rewarded financially in all three of those roles. Given her approximately two decades of intimacy with the man — and the physical and digital evidence relating to Maxwell taken from Epstein’s New York mansion of message pads, computers and other office documentation upon his 2019 arrest — all descriptions of the Epstein apparatus’ reporting structure have her firmly placed in the No. 2 spot, just below the boss.
That means it’s now quite difficult for Maxwell to deny knowledge of Epstein’s criminal sexual depravity. Consequently, her defense lawyers can only simulate the effect of a real, buttressed, workable, factual denial of the charges by trying to undermine the credibility of the four government witnesses, thus rendering their narrative of Ghislaine Maxwell’s behavior moot, or at least making it matter less in the jury’s deliberations. With the tactic, the defense has already heartily jousted into each of the four alleged Epstein victims, as each of them has come up for cross-examination during the prosecution’s presentation. It’s a way for the defenders to lay the groundwork for the full-on destruction-of-witness-credibility strategy as they lay out their case. Call it the wrecking-ball defense.
Maxwell attempted the wrecking-ball defense as she was sued by Virginia Roberts Giuffre for defamation. It failed spectacularly, notably within Maxwell’s own deposition, as attorney Sigrid McCawley confronted Maxwell with chapter and verse, dates, names, and locations, in a word, more or less the same mountain of evidence that the government holds against Maxwell now. Maxwell awaits her trial on two counts of perjury based on certain answers in that deposition.
Obviously, in this or any matter, the prosecution carries the burden of proof, so, depending upon the levels of convincing showmanship that the defense can muster before a jury in the coming weeks — with the goal of sowing that most precious commodity for a defendant in a criminal proceeding, “reasonable doubt” — the case could be carried in Maxwell’s favor. The wrecking-ball strategy has pulled some shocking “innocent” verdicts out of the fire in hotly contested criminal proceedings before. Performed convincingly, it can move a trial’s goalposts, changing the very questions the jury faces. By degrees, it can replace the question of the defendant’s guilt or innocence with the question of whether the witnesses’ narratives hold up at all, which then becomes a hard issue for the prosecution to rebut.
That noted, in the Maxwell trial, there’s a large and implacable element of confirmation to the government’s case that will be difficult for any defenders, no matter how convincing or theatrical in their demolition of prosecution witnesses, to overcome. That element is enduring presence of Epstein, the once-convicted, twice-arrested felon and the director, the man pulling the levers with fairy-tale amounts of cash sourced from a who’s who of the business world while running his gigantic matrix of sexual abuse. He foresaw his own end; it was not a pretty one, and he apparently chose to exit. That Ghislaine Maxwell was Epstein’s No. 2 is not under debate. How much she knew, and upon whom she exercised her enormous power while she operated under Epstein’s aegis is at issue in Judge Nathan’s court.
Ms. Maxwell’s former partner, boss and lover draws the eye of the needle in this proceeding, through which Maxwell must slither, inevitably smaller. It’s a fair bet that Maxwell’s defenders will move for acquittal as a pro-forma move, setting the stage for an appeal of an eventual guilty verdict. In the meantime, as the defense presents, Ghislaine Maxwell’s well-paid advocates will stick to their guns, aimed resolutely at the witnesses.
Bottom line, for Maxwell now, it’s all about the wrecking ball: Whether she can destroy enough witness narrative to fashion a gap wide enough through which she can walk.