Prosecutors say they plan to rest their case against Jeffrey Epstein’s associate by week’s end—a shocking move from a team that appears to have failed on a number of other fronts already.
Ghislaine Maxwell is on trial, but the case has always been about more than her. In seeking to put the disgraced British heiress behind bars for a possible 80 years, prosecutors are aiming to redress serial failures by the justice system to punish the crimes of her partner: the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Which is why it’s shocking—and tragic—that the prosecution’s case against Maxwell appears far weaker than many people expected. The list of prosecutorial missteps is long. Victims have appeared unprepared for cross-examination. High-profile coconspirators have not yet been called to testify about Maxwell’s alleged role in Epstein’s child sex trafficking operation. On Tuesday, prosecutors stunned reporters in the courthouse viewing room by announcing the government intends to rest its case before Friday—weeks earlier than anticipated. It all raises the painful question: Will Maxwell go free? Before the trial opened, I counted myself among the pessimists who expected the case wouldn’t provide a full accounting of Epstein’s alleged crimes or expose the powerful men that allegedly participated in his depraved lifestyle. My view has held throughout the trial. I was dismayed, for instance, that prosecutor Lara Pomerantz’s opening statement ran a short 35 minutes (roughly 10 minutes less than the government’s opening argument in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial, for comparison). I was also underwhelmed that prosecutors didn’t first call an alleged victim as their first witness and instead lead off with Epstein’s pilot Larry Visoski. The perception in the viewing room was that Visoski testified more like a defense witness, claiming he never saw sex acts with underage girls or sexual activity on Epstein’s planes. Testimony from Maxwell’s alleged victims has been harrowing. On Tuesday, the third accuser testified that Epstein sexually abused her more than a hundred times starting when she was a 14-year-old. The woman, identified by her first name Carolyn, recounted that Maxwell often scheduled her massages with Epstein and once groped her while she was naked and said she had “a great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends.” (Carolyn said Maxwell knew she was under the age of consent.) In one heartbreaking moment, Carolyn broke down and said, “my soul is broken” because of Maxwell’s alleged abuse. Unfortunately, prosecutors didn’t follow up and ask Carolyn to name Epstein’s friends. Carolyn’s gut-wrenching testimony was also undermined by a seeming lack of preparation by the prosecution. Under cross-examination, one of Maxwell’s lawyers, Jeffrey Pagliuca, exposed inconsistencies in Carolyn’s prior comments on the case. Pagliuca noted that Carolyn didn’t mention Maxwell’s name once during her first interview with the FBI in 2007.