NEW YORK — The British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by the American millionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
The verdict capped a monthlong trial featuring sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein's palatial homes in Florida, New York and New Mexico.
Jurors deliberated for five full days before finding Maxwell guilty of five of six counts.
She faces the likelihood of years in prison — an outcome long sought by women who spent years fighting in civil courts to hold Maxwell accountable for her role in recruiting and grooming Epstein's teenage victims and sometimes joining in the sexual abuse.
The defense had insisted Maxwell was a victim of a vindictive prosecution devised to deliver justice to women deprived of their main villain when Epstein killed himself while awaiting trial in 2019.
Prosecutors say Epstein could not have sexually abused girls as young as 14 without Maxwell serving as his "lady of the house." Maxwell's lawyers say she is innocent.
Jurors deliberated the fate of Maxwell at her sex trafficking trial were told Wednesday they would have to work through the New Year's holiday after they inquired about that possibility — the latest sign that a verdict was not near in the monthlong trial.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan cited an "astronomical spike" in the number of coronavirus cases in New York City as she explained to lawyers out of the jury's presence why she was asking jurors to work at least an extra hour each day and every day through the week.
Minutes after arriving to begin deliberations Wednesday, the jury sent the judge a note asking if they were also required to work on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, with the latter falling on a Saturday. Nathan sent them a note saying that they were, unless any of them faced a "substantial hardship" because of immovable commitments.
The jury also asked for transcripts of testimony from five trial witnesses as it weighs the evidence prosecutors presented to try to prove allegations that Maxwell recruited and groomed teenage girls from 1994 to 2004 for financier Jeffrey Epstein — and herself — to sexually abuse.
Maxwell appeared encouraged by the long deliberations, with her eyes lighting up after the judge received a request by the jury for transcripts of testimony from some defense witnesses. They included a memory expert who testified that memories can be corrupted over time by outside influences.
Defense lawyers say that Maxwell was made a scapegoat by the U.S. government after Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019 as he awaited his own sex trafficking trial.
Maxwell, 60, was arrested in July 2020 and, deemed a flight risk, has been held without bail ever since. Nathan has repeatedly rejected bail attempts, including a $28.5 million package that would have required Maxwell to submit to 24-hour armed guards at her residence to ensure her appearance in court.