NEW YORK – The Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking trial was a four-week winding road featuring sordid testimony by four women who accused the British socialite of grooming their teenage selves for abuse at the hands of financier Jeffrey Epstein. The defense maintained the abuse could have been real, but Maxwell wasn’t part of it.
It all came to a climax earlier this week with a guilty verdict in federal court in Manhattan, delivered after five full days of jury deliberations.
The jurors’ identities were kept secret. Still, there were clues in the record about who they were and hints about how they reached a decision that hung in the balance for five days amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in New York City that threatened to derail the trial.
Here are some reflections on the players involved and how the deliberations unfolded:
They were six men and six women from varying educational and career backgrounds who survived a selection process by showing they had no preconceived notions about the case.
None had much interest in or imprint on social media. One juror, asked what she does for fun, answered: “I love to clean.”
Some of their jobs foreshadowed the aptitude they displayed for the laborious, tedious procession toward a solution: bank trader’s assistant, city clerical worker, government contract specialist, life science company vice president, home health aide, health plan project manager.
Identified only by numbers, they seemed attentive throughout the trial. Once deliberations began, they sent notes with occasional questions and requested transcripts of most of the trial’s key testimony, never once hinting at a deadlock.
“Our deliberations are moving along and we are making progress,” they informed the judge Tuesday in a matter-of-fact note presaging the next day's verdict.
After a decade on the bench, U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan had landed her biggest case yet with Ghislaine Maxwell.
During the trial, Nathan learned she was being appointed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, a promotion that forced her to suspend the trial for three days while she went to Washington to answer questions from the senators considering her confirmation.
In making rulings, Nathan seemed confidently decisive and mostly immovable once she had arrived at a conclusion. Nobody knew that better than Maxwell, who watched Nathan deny her bail requests, again and again.
But during the deliberations, the judge acknowledged that it was the jury that was in charge. She accepted their wishes around work hours even if it went against her own instructions, noting that they were “not shy to indicate” what they wanted.
THE RACE AGAINST COVID
Nathan did not hide her anxiety from the jury over the possibility that a coronavirus outbreak among jurors could force a mistrial. During the first week of deliberations, she invited jurors to meet a third day before the Christmas holiday. They declined.
By Monday, she had stepped up the pressure, asking them to stay an extra hour each night — again declined.
She revealed her worries to lawyers Tuesday, telling them her request was “because we are seeing an astronomical spike” in New York City's coronavirus cases, fueled by the omicron variant. She kept her fears from the jury after defense lawyers worried it would unduly pressure them to reach a verdict.
By Wednesday, she was ready to step up pressure even further, telling jurors they would work on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and even Sunday if they hadn't reached a verdict. Later that day, Nathan, breathing heavily, took the bench at 4:58 p.m. to announce there was a verdict.
MAXWELL'S LAST DAY
The last day of the trial started well for Maxwell.
A jury that had already deliberated for four full days sent the judge an early morning note saying it wanted the transcripts of testimony from a half-dozen witnesses. Jurors also wanted that of an expert who threw shade at the veracity of the memories of Maxwell's accusers.
Was it a signal they were undecided and that an acquittal or hung jury was still in the cards?
As the judge sorted matters out with the jury outside of the courtroom, a buoyant Maxwell appeared to think so. Her eyes beaming above her face mask, she deliberately turned her chair at the defense table in the direction of two courtroom sketch artists and struck a pose for them.
Deliberations went forward. The jury went silent. No more notes for hours.
But at the end of the day a last note finally came.
“We have a verdict,” the judge said as the courtroom went silent.
A defense team that had engaged in constant public displays of affection with Maxwell sat completely still with her as the verdict was read. On most days, she had hugged her lawyers coming and going from the courtroom.
This time, there were no hugs.