Ghislaine Maxwell’s lawyers say she’s being framed for Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes as her child sex-trafficking trial begins

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Ghislaine Maxwell makes eye contact with her sister during jury selection in the trial of Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s associate accused of sex trafficking, in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
  • Ghislaine Maxwell’s lawyers gave opening statements in her child sex-trafficking trial on Monday.
  • They say she’s being unfairly blamed for Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes since he died before his trial.
  • Prosecutors gave their own opening statements earlier in the day. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty.

NEW YORK — Defense attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell sought to tear apart the child sex-trafficking case against their client on Monday, arguing in opening statements that the entire indictment is a sideshow after the US Justice Department let Jeffrey Epstein die in jail.

“Epstein’s death left a gaping hole for the pursuit of justice for those women,” defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said in court on Monday, referring to the four accusers in Maxwell’s indictment. “She is filling that hole and filling that chair.”

The defense’s opening statements, at the start of the trial held in federal court in Manhattan, follow a barrage of accusations from prosecutors earlier in the day. Prosecutors allege Maxwell trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex, in concert with the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and sexually abused the girls herself.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and denied all wrongdoing.

If she’s convicted on all charges, Maxwell, 59, could face a sentence of up to 80 years in prison.

In court filings before the trial, her attorneys argued that prosecutors only went after Maxwell because the wealthy and well-connected Epstein died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on similar charges. Defense attorneys have also argued that prosecutors waited too long to bring the charges, which relate to events that happened between 1994 and 2004.

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Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The indictment against Maxwell alleges she and Epstein ran the child sex-trafficking operation together, and some of the prosecutors who brought charges against Epstein are also assigned to Maxwell’s case. Maxwell’s attorneys and family members have argued that her decades-long relationship with Epstein has been overstated.

Epstein’s death has been an embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons, a division of the US Justice Department that oversees federal jails. The Metropolitan Correctional Center, the Manhattan federal jail where Epstein killed himself, was closed earlier this year following numerous scandals.

Maxwell, who was arrested in July 2020, has been locked up in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center ever since. Her lawyers have frequently complained about the jail’s poor conditions and have said that Maxwell was not given adequate space and time to review evidence in her case prior to trial.

Her trial is expected to last up to six weeks.