Ghislaine Maxwell has never conceded an inch in her insistence that she’s no grubby criminal and, on the first day of her trial yesterday, she certainly wasn’t about to start.
As she arrived to hear opening statements for a case that could see her spend the rest of her life behind bars, gone was the hunched, confused victim of jailhouse brutality seen at previous court appearances when she was trying to win bail.
She almost breezed into Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse. Followed by two female guards, the drab blue prison uniform of previous court appearances was replaced by an expensive-looking beige cashmere jumper, black trousers, heels and a white Covid mask.
Once inside the cavernous Courtroom 318 in downtown Manhattan, which is famous as the venue for its terrorist trials, the British socialite gave affectionate hugs to each of her four high-powered lawyers.
Where the alleged abuse took place. For Maxwell, followed by two female guards, the drab blue prison uniform of previous court appearances was replaced by an expensive-looking beige cashmere jumper, black trousers, heels and a white Covid mask today
Maxwell, 59, who is accused of procuring underage girls for pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is set to stand trial on sex trafficking charges on November 29. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges
Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial has begun today in New York where the 59-year-old socialite faces 80 years in prison if convicted. She’s pictured embracing her defense lawyers
A tactile person, at least with her attorneys, Maxwell would frequently lean over them, resting her hand appreciatively on the small of their back as the morning progressed with final pre-trial delays.
She then waved to her beret-clad sister Isabel, who lives in the US and who has been representing the family in court at previous hearings, just yards away in the front row of the public seats.
Sitting next to Isabel was another ally, Leah Saffian, longtime Maxwell family lawyer and old friend of Ghislaine. Maxwell often glanced in their direction during the day but they didn’t always appear to see her.
Maxwell’s legal team has repeatedly made claims about her alleged mistreatment behind bars. She is shown in prison earlier this year with ‘a black eye’
Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim took the floor to deliver the defense’s presentation, saying she is ‘proud’ to represent Maxwell
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and other charges and has been awaiting trial for over a year in ‘hell-hole’ Brooklyn prison
In what may have been a reflection of her nervous energy or else a determined attempt not to let her uneasiness show, Maxwell was often a ball of energy as she feverishly wrote out notes for her lawyers, discussed tactics and once even snapped her fingers twice in succession as she appeared to become excited by some aspect of their talks.
The defendant who’d accused the authorities of purposefully making her jail life so hellish that it would ruin her chances of putting together a decent defence appeared to be making up for lost time.
She sat next to Christian Everdell, a former prosecutor on the team that convicted Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, and often edged close to him to talk in his ear.
Maxwell seemed little bothered that her mask often slipped below her nose but, at this stage, she may regard contracting coronavirus as the least of her problems.
Sarah Ransome, one of several women who have accused Epstein and Ghislaine of sexual abuse, was seen arriving to the courthouse
After 17 months in a detention centre where she was living in virtual solitary confinement in a tiny cell, it appeared Maxwell was relishing the liberty that a trial expected to last several months will afford her. Her thick black hair, shiny and recently trimmed just above the shoulder, showed not a trace of the grey streaks that were all too evident in the days when she was trying to win bail.
According to prosecutors, Maxwell has done her level best to put off this day, avoiding justice for years – her family insist she was only fleeing the media – with tactics that even extended to covering her mobile phone with tin foil to stop it being electronically tracked. As her defence laid out yesterday, she in turn claims she is a scapegoat for the sins of her former lover and close friend Jeffrey Epstein – an innocent woman caught up in the embarrassment of a government that failed to prevent the paedophile financier from committing suicide behind bars before he could be put on trial.
If the reputedly haughty daughter of the even haughtier Robert Maxwell has indeed – as the evidence strongly suggests – been trying to put off the day she finally had to face her accusers, she can thank the coronavirus that her humiliation wasn’t sharper.
Although Courtroom 318 was chosen primarily because it is one of the bigger courtrooms – the Maxwell trial has attracted vast attention – social distancing measures have drastically reduced the number of people it can fit.
Ghislaine Maxwell was Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘partner in crime’ who ‘targeted young girls for sexual abuse’, the prosecution claimed in a blistering opening statement
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell sits at the defense table during final stages of jury selection on Monday
There was only room for a handful of the journalists who had been queuing – 50-strong – from before dawn for a place in court. Best of all, perhaps, for Maxwell was that she was spared the ray gun stares of at least two of Epstein’s accusers who – not involved in the trial – also weren’t able to get into the courtroom and had to make do watching it on monitors in an overflow room.
The Covid measures include the building of plexiglass boxes containing hospital-grade HEPA air filters around the witness and lawyers’ stands so they can ask and answer questions without having to wear a mask. Although the case has been dubbed the trial of the decade, it was delayed yesterday after it emerged that one of the jurors had forgotten it was starting.
Maxwell’s fate will be decided in a wood-panelled courtroom with 30ft ceilings that heard the trials of defendants linked to the Al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Africa and a plot to blow up the United Nations headquarters. The courtroom is also famous as the place where notorious mobster boss Joseph Bonanno chose to surrender himself to the authorities after going on the run. The canny Mafiosa simply turned up in the courtroom and announced his identity because he wanted to be arrested by court police rather than the less lenient FBI.
Courtroom 318 is also useful for high security cases because it is close to a covered crosswalk connecting the courts to the next-door Metropolitan Corrections Center where prisoners are kept. In the event of trouble, guards can rush into court quickly and whisk the accused back to their cell.
Isabel Maxwell, the sister of Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse on Monday
No such interruption looks likely at the Maxwell trial. Although she once slammed her hand angrily down on a desk at lawyers while giving a deposition a few years ago, no such outburst looks likely now.
As lawyer Lara Pomerantz outlined the prosecution case in all its ugliness, Maxwell generally stared straight ahead.
She sat behind Miss Pomerantz, straight in the line of sight of jurors looking at the lawyer, but Maxwell forebore to shake her head at the allegations. Instead her only reaction was to occasionally reach for a pen and scribble out another note on an index card which she passed to her legal team.
Her lawyer Bobbi Sternheim described Epstein as the ‘proverbial elephant in the room’.
But Maxwell will not be allowed to forget that, for many of his accusers, this middle-aged and supposedly respectable woman – who allegedly helped recruit and groom them – is even more detestable than him.