Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and alleged former business partner of late media mogul Robert Maxwell, is on trial for tax-fraud and money laundering. While the charges are serious in themselves, her plot to apparently shield her finances from authorities has been more interesting than most.
In defense of Ghislaine Maxwell, Laura Menninger, left, presented a caustic and sarcastic final statement. Credit… The New York Times’ Stephanie Keith contributed to this article.
As Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial reached its conclusion on Monday, a defense counsel told the jury that prosecutors cherry-picked evidence, naively accepted the changing claims of accusers, and had not established their case against her.
Laura Menninger, the lawyer, asked jurors to reject the government’s claims and to be cautious of evidence she called weak and witness testimony she called poor in a final argument that was at times acerbic, sarcastic, and outraged.
Ms. Menninger remarked, “The government wants you to speculate again and over.” She subsequently added, “Ms. Maxwell does not have to prove her innocence to you.” You’re already aware of it.”
Ms. Menninger attacked the government’s evidence as well as the motivations and memory of Ms. Maxwell’s accusers. She also targeted Jeffrey Epstein, whom she described as a “master manipulator” throughout the trial.
“Everyone knew Jeffrey was concealing secrets from Ghislaine, except Ghislaine,” Ms. Menninger said, saying that Mr. Epstein’s previous girlfriends had been hidden from Ms. Maxwell by the domestic staff and pilots.
Ms. Menninger claimed Ms. Maxwell was on trial because of her connection with Mr. Epstein at the conclusion of her final argument. “It might have been her worst mistake in life, but it wasn’t a crime,” she added.
Ms. Menninger spent the majority of her two-and-a-half-hour closing statement guiding the jury through the evidence of the four women who accused Ms. Maxwell of grooming them for sexual assault as adolescents.
She drew attention to contradictions in their testimony, especially when it differed from earlier comments to law enforcement officers or contemporaneous recollections.
She also focused on the cash settlements obtained by the witnesses from Mr. Epstein’s estate. She called one victim’s lawyer “no idiot,” stating that once Mr. Epstein died, the lawyer understood there was a “mountain of cash” for his client to pursue.
Ms. Menninger said, “All of these witnesses have altered their accounts multiple times.” “Why?”
Ms. Menninger stated that the government’s case was based on the four women’s “false recollections.” She relied on the evidence of one defense witness, a memory specialist who testified about memory’s malleability. “Recollection deteriorates with time, and post-event contamination may affect and distort memory,” Ms. Menninger said.
“The more vivid a memory seems, the less true it is,” Ms. Menninger said.
Other government witnesses’ reliability was also questioned by Ms. Menninger. “A two-time burglar, clearly with an ax to grind,” she said of one witness, a former employee who characterized Ms. Maxwell as the “lady of the house” who established the rules for Mr. Epstein’s residence.
She cited another witness, the former boyfriend of one of the accusers, for his criminal records and drug usage.
Ms. Menninger also fought back hard against prosecutors’ claims that Ms. Maxwell’s involvement in Mr. Epstein’s plan was motivated by money and the desire to preserve her opulent lifestyle, both in opening comments and closing arguments.
Earlier in the day, a prosecution cited bank records showing Mr. Epstein moved $30.7 million to Ms. Maxwell between 1999 and 2007, which encompasses some of the years she has been accused of assisting him in recruiting, grooming, and sexually abusing young teens.
Ms. Menninger said, “The government makes a great show of these enormous monetary disbursements.” “That’s really flimsy evidence,” she added.
She said that the prosecution was asking the jury to make educated guesses. “Speculation is not proof,” Ms. Menninger ruled, noting that it was unclear if Ms. Maxwell “understood these transactions were being conducted in her name.”
— Benjamin Weiser and Rebecca Davis O’Brien