maxwell trial

Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

A courtroom sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo: JANE ROSENBERG/REUTERS

More than one year after her capture in New Hampshire, Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial came to an end in Manhattan in December. The jury found Maxwell guilty on five of the six counts brought against her, including one count of sex trafficking a minor, one count of sex-trafficking conspiracy, and three counts of conspiracy regarding transporting minors with intent of illegal sexual activity. After a juror’s previously unknown history of childhood sexual abuse came to light, Maxwell’s legal team asked the judge to declare a mistrial, which she ultimately declined to do. On June 28, Maxwell received her sentence: Up to 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine — more than the 15 to 19 years Maxwell’s attorneys had requested but less than the 30 to 55 years prosecutors wanted.

Throughout the trial, federal prosecutors maintained that, as early as 1994, Maxwell helped her late friend and sometime employer Jeffrey Epstein “recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse” girls as young as 14. The government contended that she developed seemingly platonic relationships with potential marks before introducing “sexual topics” into conversation and coaching them toward eventual interactions with Epstein and his associates — and occasionally even Maxwell herself. In exchange, she allegedly dangled modeling jobs, educational opportunities, and money, trapping young girls in sexual service at Epstein’s various properties.

In addition to helping Epstein build and sustain his alleged sex ring, prosecutors said Maxwell lied under oath “in an effort to conceal her crimes,” a perjury charge that did not come up for consideration during this trial. Maxwell had pleaded not guilty and has always denied the allegations against her as “absolute rubbish.” And yet they have surfaced repeatedly, as Epstein’s victims consistently implicate Maxwell in recounting their abuse. A number of those witnesses testified at trial; below, the key moments from their accounts.

A 14-year-old said Maxwell had groomed her for (and participated in) sexual massages and orgies.

On November 30, a woman testifying under the name Jane said she met Maxwell at a Michigan arts camp — presumably Interlochen, where Epstein was a donor and also kept a cabin — in 1994. Jane said she was 14 at the time, and Maxwell walked by with a “cute little Yorkie.” The pair started talking while Jane played with the dog, and eventually Epstein joined the conversation; according to Jane, he framed the discovery that they all lived in Palm Beach, Florida, as a coincidence and took her number. When Jane got home from camp, Epstein invited her and her mother to his mansion for tea — the first and last visit her mother would chaperone. Jane continued going to Epstein’s house, though, and Maxwell was apparently always present: She would allegedly take the girl to the movies or shopping, buying her nice clothes and also underwear from Victoria’s Secret (“basic-looking ones,” such as “white cotton briefs”).

Eventually, though, Jane said Maxwell began talking to her about sex, seemingly as a prelude to abuse: One day, according to Jane, Epstein — after a conversation in which he offered to introduce her to agents who could “make things happen” for her — brought her to his pool house and took off his pants. What happened next left her “frozen in fear,” she said. “He pulled me on top of himself and proceeded to masturbate on me,” Jane remembered. “I was terrified and felt gross, and I felt ashamed.” She recalled a subsequent encounter that allegedly occurred in Epstein’s bedroom, where Maxwell and the financier started touching each other, encouraging her to join them.

Then came the massages for which Epstein is now notorious: Maxwell, Jane said, instructed her on “how Jeffrey likes to be massaged.” That, too, turned sexual, with Maxwell occasionally taking part. “I would say it seemed very casual,” Jane said of the massages, “like it was very normal, like it was not a big deal.” For years, the girl would remain in Epstein’s orbit, traveling with him “maybe ten times” and visiting his New Mexico ranch and New York townhouse, she said. A pilot of Epstein’s remembered seeing Jane onboard Epstein’s private jet.

Jane testified to her own coerced participation in orgies with Epstein, though she said the details were “hard to remember,” as she grew “numb” to the encounters and they began to “seem the same.” Maxwell’s attorneys reportedly questioned gaps and inconsistencies in her memory, as well as her long-standing silence on the matter. But Jane, who works in the entertainment industry, said she always wanted to just move on. “How do you tell or describe any of this,” she asked, “when all you feel is shame and disgust and confusion, and you don’t know how you ended up here?”

On the third day of trial, Maxwell’s defense cross-examined Jane, calling into question her family’s economic status — her parents paid the $4,000 Interlochen fee for three summers, for three children — to suggest she was not vulnerable to Epstein’s abuse. (He allegedly targeted vulnerable girls from unstable homes most of the time.) They also leveraged her career as a soap-opera actress to suggest that she might be playing a role. When the prosecution asked if she understood the difference between her day job and her job on the stand, she responded: “Acting on television is not real and testifying in court is real and is the truth.”

Testifying as “Matt,” one of Jane’s ex-boyfriends recalled her talking about “a godfather, an uncle, a family-friend-type person who helped her mom pay the bills” in some sort of exchange, and also a woman who “made her feel comfortable” about the arrangement when she was a teen.

A former Epstein employee recalled Jane and Maxwell spending time together.

On December 2, Juan Alessi — formerly the house manager at Epstein’s Palm Beach estate — said he used to drive Jane to Epstein’s home, starting after her first visit. Alessi estimated Jane to have been 14 or 15 in 1994, one of the “many, many, many” young women he saw in Epstein’s company during the approximately 11 years he worked for the financier. Alessi reportedly said that Jane, whom he called “strikingly beautiful,” was one of two underage girls he saw at the house; the other was Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Per Reuters, Alessi recalled Jane spending time with both Maxwell and Epstein in Palm Beach, and said he once brought her to a small airport where he saw her board a flight with Epstein, Maxwell, and the aforementioned Yorkie. He also mentioned instructions listed in an employee handbook that Maxwell made — “Remember that you see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, except to answer a question directed at you” — and “finding a large dildo” after one of Epstein’s massages. He said he returned it to its regular storage place: a basket of Maxwell’s sex toys.

Alessi reportedly also told the court that he was in charge of scheduling Epstein’s massages, and that “it gradually went from one massage a day to three.” Still, he added, none of the girls ever asked him for help or indicated that Epstein abused them in any way. “But I wish they would have because I would have done something to stop it.”

A former Palm Beach police officer examined a massage table seized from Epstein’s estate.

Prosecutors reportedly brought a collapsible massage table into the courtroom on December 3 and had former Palm Beach police officer Gregory Parkinson examine it in front of the jury. Parkinson took part in a 2005 search of Epstein’s Florida home and confirmed that officers had taken the table “from the second floor south bathroom, where the shower was,” during the sweep. At the time, Parkinson said, “we were looking for massage tables. We were looking for massage oils. We were looking for sex toys.” And they apparently found them: Prosecutors also showed the jury a photo of a cardboard box of sex toys, labeled “Twin Torpedos,” allegedly found in one of Epstein’s closets.

A second woman, “Kate,” said Maxwell had her dress up in a schoolgirl costume before an encounter with Epstein.

Kicking off the second week of trial, a second woman — testifying under the name Kate — recalled some feedback Maxwell allegedly gave her as a teen: She “told me I was one of his favorites,” Kate said in court on December 6.

Kate said she met Maxwell in Paris in 1994, when she was 17 and an aspiring musician. She found the older woman “very sophisticated and very elegant,” Kate said. “She seemed to be everything that I wanted to be.” Kate accepted a subsequent invitation to Maxwell’s townhouse after moving to London. After the first visit, she said she “left … feeling exhilarated and like somebody wanted to be my friend.” Kate allegedly met Epstein at the townhouse a few weeks later and said that Maxwell instructed her to massage his feet. Shortly thereafter, Maxwell called Kate and asked her to fill in for a masseuse who had purportedly canceled on Epstein. When Kate arrived, Maxwell allegedly brought her to the room where Epstein was waiting, naked, and told her to “have a good time.” Kate told the jury that she continued to massage Epstein after that, and that the encounters involved various sex acts, Kate told the jury. After the first one, Kate continued, Maxwell “said did you have fun, you’re such a good girl, I’m so happy you were able to come.” Eventually, Kate said Maxwell asked her if she knew any other “cute, young, pretty” girls who could service the financier, because he “needed to have sex about three times a day,” and “it was a lot for her” — meaning Maxwell — “to do.”

Though Kate would have been a minor by U.S. standards when she first met Epstein, 17 is above the age of consent in the U.K. — the judge informed the jury that any contact between Kate and Epstein would not qualify as “illegal sex acts.” Still, prosecutors hope Kate’s testimony will help establish a pattern, namely: Maxwell establishing relationships with girls and young women to coerce them into sex with Epstein.

After she turned 18, Kate allegedly visited Maxwell and Epstein in New York, in the Virgin Islands, and at the Palm Beach estate, where she recalled another encounter that occurred in the pool house. That day, Kate said she arrived at the mansion and found a schoolgirl costume laid out for her on a bed. “I thought it would be fun for you to take Jeffrey his tea in this outfit,” Kate remembered Maxwell telling her. When prosecutors asked her why she agreed to Maxwell’s request, Kate answered, “I didn’t know how to say no. I had never been to Palm Beach or Florida before. I had no idea where the house was. And I wasn’t sure, if I said no, if I would have to leave, or what the consequence would be for not doing it.”

Kate also remembered seeing “shocking” nude photos of young girls in nearly every room of Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion. But in cross-examination, Maxwell’s team worked to discredit Kate, pointing out that she had stayed in contact with Epstein into her 30s and suggesting that a history of substance abuse might have impaired her memory. The defense also noted that Kate received $3.25 million from the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program. “What the money meant to me was recognition of my pain. What it meant to me was that my truth was important,” Kate said of the payment. As to her memory, Kate insisted there were no holes. “I have a huge amount of humiliation and shame around the events that took place,” she said.

Another witness, “Carolyn,” testified to sexual contact with Epstein starting at age 14.

Testifying on December 7, “Carolyn” told the court she had met Maxwell when she was 14 through Virginia Roberts Giuffre, whose 2015 defamation suit against Maxwell helped catalyze this trial. Carolyn spoke of experiencing sexual abuse by her grandfather while growing up in Palm Beach and explained that she had dropped out of middle school and developed an adolescent cocaine addiction. When Giuffre asked if she wanted to make some extra money as a masseuse, Carolyn said yes; she accompanied Giuffre to Epstein’s house, where she watched her have sex with Epstein after a 45-minute massage. Although Carolyn said she did not participate directly, both girls were paid $300 for their time, and Carolyn would go on to provide Epstein hundreds of massages herself, each in exchange for cash, she recalled. Maxwell had allegedly coordinated these appointments as well as the payments, sometimes handing Carolyn three hundred-dollar bills herself. Carolyn said the fee went up to $600 when she brought friends along.

Every massage went basically the same way, Carolyn said: She would arrive, Epstein would lie on his stomach, and they would talk while she worked on his back. He would flip over at the end, she said, to touch her and/or masturbate. Sometimes he would use a sex toy. Once, she said, he pushed a button to summon another young woman, and they had a threesome. “Something sexual happened every single time,” Carolyn said. On one occasion, Maxwell had touched her breast in the massage room, reportedly telling her she had a “great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends.” Carolyn also remembered telling Maxwell she was underage and turned down a trip to Epstein’s island because her mother wouldn’t let her go. Still, she continued visiting the mansion for the next few years, going less frequently after she had a child in 2004. At 18, she stopped seeing Epstein. “He asked me if I had any younger friends, and I said no,” she said. “And that’s when I realized I was too old.”

Carolyn’s former boyfriend said “she was a child” when she met Epstein.

On December 8, Carolyn’s former boyfriend, and the father of her child, took the stand. “Shawn” reportedly told the court that he used to drive Carolyn to Epstein’s for massages and wait outside for her to finish. (He would’ve been 17 when she was 14.) Shawn said he dated two other girls, Amanda and Melissa, in Epstein’s network while he dated Carolyn, and said he remembered seeing them exit Epstein’s Palm Beach home with $100 bills in hand. Carolyn, he said, used to receive occasional gifts — lingerie and a movie, per his recollection — FedExed from New York. Asked about her intellectual maturity at the time of her involvement with Epstein, Shawn replied, “She was a child.”

Shawn added that Maxwell and another of Epstein’s alleged recruiters, Sarah Kellen, would typically call him to set up the massage appointments. One woman spoke in a foreign accent, he said — English and something like French.

And a handful of Epstein’s former employees spoke to flight records and call logs.

Also on December 8, the jury heard from a few former members of Epstein’s staff. Now a schoolteacher, Nicole Hesse said Maxwell hired her in 2003 to take care of his Palm Beach estate, which she reportedly called the “Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell home.” Hesse confirmed that Carolyn had called the residence on at least three occasions.

David Rodgers, Epstein’s chief pilot (Rodgers worked for him from 1991 to 2019), called Maxwell “number two” after his boss. Rodgers attested to seeing other powerful people — including Prince Andrew, whom Roberts Giuffre is also suing; Donald Trump; and Bill Clinton — aboard Epstein’s jets, and said he kept his own logbooks noting who flew when. He remembered flying Maxwell and Epstein to a Michigan airport near Interlochen between 1991 and 1998, when Jane allegedly met the pair at camp.

Prosecutors introduced a trove of previously unseen photos.

On December 7, prosecutors showed the jury a series of never-before-seen photos in which Epstein and Maxwell look very much like a couple. In several taken aboard one of his planes, she can be seen holding his foot to her breasts mid-massage; in others, they are hugging and kissing. The pictures document European vacations, upscale parties, a trip on a yacht, and a ride on a motorcycle. They seem to span decades, some showing the pair in the early 1990s, while others look more recent. The FBI seized the photos during a 2019 raid of Epstein’s New York mansion, and prosecutors presented them as further evidence Epstein and Maxwell were “partners in crime.” They also seem to implicate Prince Andrew, given that one — a photo of Maxwell and Epstein sitting together outside a log cabin — was taken at the queen’s Balmoral estate.

A fourth and final accuser said Maxwell massaged her at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch.

On December 10, the fourth and final of Epstein’s alleged victims took the stand: Annie Farmer — among the first women to speak publicly about her experiences with Epstein — said she met him through her older sister, Maria, on a 1996 visit to New York City. Epstein was supposedly acting as a sort of benefactor for Maria, a student at the New York Academy of Art, and he took both girls to the movies one night. “It was a little weird, one of those things that is hard to explain. We were sitting next to each other, and he put his hand out for me to hold,” she said, according to the New York Daily News. He “caressed” her arms and legs when her sister wasn’t looking, Farmer said. “It was one of those things that just gave me a weird feeling.” Epstein reportedly said he could help Farmer get into college, and the New York meeting led to an invitation to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch — billed as an “educational group trip,” per the Daily News, which turned out to be just Farmer, Epstein, and Maxwell alone at his house. It was reportedly the first time Farmer met Maxwell, who took the 16-year-old shopping and showed her how to massage Epstein’s feet. She also insisted on giving Farmer a “professional massage,” the witness recalled.

“She said that she wanted me to have that experience, and she would be happy to give me a massage,” Farmer recalled. Maxwell allegedly asked that she get completely naked. Once the teen was on the table, Annie continued, “She pulled the sheet down and exposed my breasts and started rubbing on my chest and on my upper breasts.” Epstein wasn’t involved with the massage, but as for Maxwell, “when she pulled down the sheet, I was kinda frozen,” Farmer explained. “I just wanted so badly to get off the table and have this massage be done.” She had a feeling Epstein watched the encounter, and the next day, she said, he got in bed with her, “saying he wanted to cuddle.” He “kind of lay behind me and reached his arms around me and, like, pressed his body into me,” she continued, adding that she said she did not want to cuddle with him and excused herself to the bathroom.

Though Farmer was 16 at the time of the trip, the judge advised the jurors ahead of her testimony that any contact between her and the two adults could not be viewed as illegal because she met New Mexico’s age of consent in 1996.

Maxwell was found guilty.

After deliberating for almost a week, the jury delivered a verdict on Wednesday, December 29. Maxwell was acquitted of one count of enticing a minor to travel across state lines to engage in an illegal sexual act, per the New York Times, with regards to allegations made by a witness identified as “Jane.” However, she was found guilty on all other five counts, including one count of sex trafficking a minor, which could be punishable by up to 40 years in prison, per the Times. Maxwell was also found guilty on three conspiracy charges related to her alleged participation in Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse, each of which carries a potential maximum sentence of five years, per the Times. The fifth guilty count — transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity — is potentially punishable by 10 years in prison. Sentencing will be determined at a later date.

“A unanimous jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable — facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children,” said U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Damian Williams, after the verdict. “Crimes that she committed with her long-time parter and co-conspirator, Jeffrey Epstein.”

Maxwell still faces a separate trial for two counts of perjury, and likely civil suits from Epstein’s alleged victims.

But then questions surfaced about one juror’s public comments.

After the trial concluded, jurors received clearance to discuss it publicly — but some “of the statements,” prosecutors explained in a January 5 letter to Judge Alison Nathan, “as related in the media, merit attention by the Court.” Specifically, prosecutors pointed to the juror Reuters identified as Scotty David, who said his personal experience of childhood sexual abuse helped sway some jurors who had been skeptical of two witnesses’ memories. “When I shared that, they were able to sort of come around on, they were able to come around on the memory aspect of the sexual abuse,” he told Reuters. (He gave similar interviews to the Independent and the Daily Mail.) Scotty David said he did not recall whether or not the prospective-juror questionnaire asked about previous personal experience with sexual abuse — he did admit he “flew through” the form — though multiple outlets confirm that it did.

Prosecutors then asked for an “inquiry” into the juror, while attorneys for Maxwell wanted Nathan to declare a mistrial, arguing in their letters that the judge “can and should order” new proceedings without holding the prosecutors’ requested hearing. What’s more, the New York Times spoke with a second juror who says they were sexually abused as a child, and that their account influenced deliberations. Nathan did not ask either juror, in the second round of the selection process, about any personal experience with sexual abuse — but she wouldn’t have, necessarily, if the jurors failed to note it on their forms. That nondisclosure could have provided grounds for a new trial. “Generally there is nothing wrong with jurors bringing their personal experiences into deliberations,” one former federal prosecutor told the Times. “However, dishonesty during the selection process goes to the very integrity of the proceedings and credible allegations of such are taken very seriously.”

On April 1, Nathan denied Maxwell’s request for a retrial, writing in her ruling that, though the original juror had not disclosed his history of abuse on the forms, the court system “does not exclude individuals with experiences similar to the issues at trial when those individuals can serve fairly and impartially.” The juror, Nathan concluded, “harbored no bias” toward Maxwell and “could serve as a fair and impartial juror.” Maxwell’s attorney indicated at the time that she plans to appeal.

On June 28, Maxwell received a 20-year prison sentence.

Nathan sentenced Maxwell to as many as 20 years in prison on June 28, adding a $750,000 fine (the legal maximum). Before announcing her decision, the judge said her sentence “must reflect the gravity of Ms. Maxwell’s conduct,” per the New York Times. Maxwell, Nathan said, “directly and repeatedly and over the course of many years participated in a horrific scheme” in which she played a “pivotal” role in helping Epstein “select young victims who were vulnerable.”

“It is important to emphasize that although Epstein was central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy for Epstein,” the judge said, calling the crimes “heinous and predatory.” Still, she left open the possibility of an early release on good behavior or time shaved off the total to account for the two years Maxwell has already spent behind bars.

Ahead of her sentencing, witnesses returned to court to make impact statements, according to the Times. Annie Farmer, whom Epstein and Maxwell once flew to New Mexico, said, “Maxwell had many opportunities to come clean but instead continued to make choices that caused more harm.” Addressing Nathan, Farmer nodded to Maxwell’s “lack of remorse” and “repeated lies about her victims.” She asked the judge to “take into account the ongoing suffering of the many women she abused and exploited, as we will continue to live with the memories of the ways she harmed us.” Similarly, Kate — who alleged that Maxwell once made her dress up in a schoolgirl uniform for Epstein — called Maxwell’s abhorrence of accountability “the final insult.”

“She doesn’t think that what she did is wrong,” Kate said. “She is not sorry and she would do it again.” Attorneys for Virginia Roberts Giuffre, unable to attend in person, read a statement on her behalf: “Without question, Jeffrey Epstein was a terrible pedophile. But I never would have met Jeffrey Epstein but for you,” she said. “You could have put an end to the rapes, the molestations, the sickening manipulations that you arranged, witnessed and even took part in. You could’ve called the authorities and reported that you were a part of something awful … You deserve to spend the rest of your life in a jail cell. You deserve to be trapped in a cage.”

Through tears, Sarah Ransome told Nathan, “I frequently experience flashbacks and wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares reliving the awful experience.” She said she had attempted suicide on two occasions. “Like Hotel California,” Ransome stated, “you could check into the Epstein-Maxwell dungeon of sexual hell, but you could never leave.”

Prosecutors asked Nathan to issue a 30-year minimum prison sentence, arguing that Maxwell “has shown absolutely no remorse for her crimes.”

“Maxwell was an adult woman and she made choices, week in, week out for years, to commit crimes with Jeffrey Epstein, to be his right hand, to make his crimes possible,” said assistant U.S. attorney Alison Moe. “Those choices were hers and they have to have serious consequences.”

Maxwell’s attorneys, meanwhile, addressed the victims, with Bobbi C. Sternheim telling them, “We feel your pain,” and expressing hope that the sentence would “give you some solace.” Sternheim asked for a sentence in the 15- to 19-year range because “Jeffrey Epstein would have faced the same,” she said, “and he is clearly far more culpable than Maxwell.”

Finally, Maxwell spoke. “Your honor, it is hard for me to address the court after listening to the pain and anguish expressed in the statements made here today,” she said, per the Times. “The terrible impact on the lives of so many women is difficult to hear and even more difficult to absorb, both in its scale and in its extent … I believe that Jeffrey Epstein was a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life and fooled all of those in his orbit.” Epstein, Maxwell, continued, “should have been here before all of you. He should have stood before you in 2005, again in 2009 and again in 2019.”

“But today it is not about Jeffrey Epstein ultimately,” Maxwell added. “To you, all the victims … I am sorry for the pain that you experienced … It is my sincerest wish to all those in this courtroom and to all those outside this courtroom that this day brings a terrible chapter to the end.” Still, just under three months ago, Maxwell’s attorneys were promising an appeal.

This article has been updated.

Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison