Ghislaine Maxwell's defense attorney says accusers had their memory 'manipulated' to implicate Maxwell in Jeffrey Epstein's crimes

Ghislaine Maxwell attends her trial for sex trafficking.
Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell attends her trial for sex trafficking next to defense attorney Christian Everdell in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., December 20, 2021.
REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
  • Ghislaine Maxwell's defense delivered its closing argument in her child-sex-trafficking trial on Monday. 
  • Prosecutors accused Maxwell of sex-trafficking girls with Jeffrey Epstein and sexually abusing them herself.
  • Maxwell's attorney argued her accusers' stories changed over time, and that their memories were "manipulated."

Ghislaine Maxwell's defense attorneys said Monday that the four accusers who testified against the British socialite in her child-sex-trafficking trial had their memories manipulated over time, wrongfully implicating Maxwell in Jeffrey Epstein's crimes

Laura Menninger, an attorney representing Maxwell, responded to prosecutors' narrative that Maxwell recruited girls for Epstein to sexually abuse because the socialite's father, the media tycoon Robert Maxwell, left no money behind when he died in 1991. Prosecutors have suggested Ghislaine Maxwell needed access to Epstein's money in order to keep up a lavish lifestyle.

"Does that make sense for a woman in her 30s?" Menninger asked jurors in her closing argument. "That she needed the lifestyle, so she was willing to drag 14-year-old girls in for sex."

Prosecutors have accused Maxwell of sex-trafficking girls with Epstein and sexually abusing them herself. The allegations in the indictment focus on activity between 1997 and 2004, and concern misconduct against four accusers, who were as young as 14 at the time.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her and denied all accusations of wrongdoing. Epstein killed himself in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on similar charges brought by members of the same prosecutorial team. Jurors begin deliberating at around 4:50 p.m. and are expected to go home at 6 p.m. before returning on Tuesday to continue.

Laura Menninger Ghislaine Maxwell trial closing
Attorney Laura Menninger closes for the defense near defense attorney Christian Everdell as Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell attends her trial for sex trafficking, in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., December 20, 2021.
REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Over the course of about three weeks in a Manhattan federal court, the four accusers testified that Maxwell touched them inappropriately and was instrumental in bringing them to Epstein. The first two women testified under the pseudonyms "Jane" and "Kate." A third woman testified under her first name, Carolyn, and a fourth took the stand using her full name, Annie Farmer.

Jane, Kate, and Carolyn each alleged that Epstein sexually abused them over the course of years. Farmer said that, when she was 16, Maxwell massaged her breasts during a trip to New Mexico and that Epstein tried to cuddle with her in bed, but that she cut off physical contact after that incident.

Menninger argued that each woman's story changed over time, in civil lawsuits and in interviews with FBI agents. For example, Carolyn did not mention Maxwell in a civil lawsuit she brought a decade ago against Epstein and another of his associates, Sarah Kellen. Carolyn had addressed this argument in her earlier testimony, pointing out that the lawsuit was prepared by an attorney she hired and that she did not write it herself.

The women's memories had been "manipulated," Menninger said, by aggressive questioning from law enforcement officers in meetings that weren't recorded or transcribed ahead of the trial. Menninger cited expert testimony from Elizabeth Loftus, a decorated psychologist who, as a witness for Maxwell's defense, said that people can latch onto "suggestive questioning" and change their memories over time.

"The older the memory is, the more susceptible it is to post-event information," Menninger said.

Menninger argued that prosecutors overstated their case and illustrated Maxwell as "Cruella de Vil and the Devil Wears Prada all wrapped into one." While the evidence against Epstein may be copious, the defense attorney said there wasn't as much corroborating evidence against Maxwell as prosecutors had suggested. Farmer's mother said she never met Maxwell personally, Menninger pointed out, and the only staffer in Epstein's Palm Beach, Florida, home who testified, Juan Alessi, had "an axe to grind" against his former employer.

Jeffrey Epstein Ghislaine Maxwell
Prosecutors entered undated photos of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell into evidence in her sex-trafficking trial.
US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York

Throughout the trial, Maxwell's defense has argued that Epstein compartmentalized various aspects of his life and was was "a manipulator of everyone around him." After a short romantic relationship in the early 1990s, they said, Maxwell simply managed Epstein's household properties.

"She is here for being with Jeffrey Epstein," Menninger said. "Maybe that was the biggest mistake of her life, but it is not a crime."

However, prosecutors showed jurors multiple photos that suggest Maxwell and Epstein were romantically linked over many years, including photos of Maxwell massaging Epstein's feet with her breasts. They also showed jurors a household manual from 2005 that includes detailed instructions for how the staff in Epstein's Palm Beach home should prepare personal items for Maxwell's visits.

In a rebuttal following Menninger's arguments to the jury, Assistant US Attorney Maurene Comey said the evidence amassed by prosecutors left no doubt that Maxwell "ran every part of Epstein's life for a decade."

She said the small discrepancies Menninger brought attention to — like that "Jane" misremembered the year of Mike Wallace's 80th birthday party Epstein brought her to — were mistakes anyone would make with the passage of time. But the "core" memories of abuse, Comey said, were unmistakable.

"Which stands out more?" Comey asked the jury. "How old you were on Mike Wallace's birthday? Or how old you were when a middle-aged man molested you?"

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