Epstein shadow hangs over jury selection in Maxwell sex crimes trial

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NEW YORK, Nov. 4 (Reuters) – It has been two years since Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell, but publicity surrounding the deceased financier will make it difficult to find an impartial jury for the upcoming abuse trial sex of former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, according to legal experts.

Potential jurors will begin on Thursday filling out a 24-page quiz in Manhattan federal court to assess whether they can fairly try Maxwell, a British socialite who US prosecutors say recruited and groomed underage girls for Epstein to abuse of Epstein.

Epstein, a well-connected fund manager who once had British Prince Andrew and billionaire Leon Black among his associates, died by suicide in a Manhattan prison in 2019 following his arrest for sex trafficking.

Maxwell’s attorneys have said “intense negative media coverage” of Maxwell and Epstein, including podcasts and documentaries on Netflix and other platforms, marred the jury roll for his trial, which is set to begin on the 29th. November.

“Epstein is going to be such an important figure in this trial, and there are so many preconceptions about Epstein, that it’s going to be difficult for the defense to have people who can come like a blank slate,” Roy said. Futterman, director of the DOAR testing consultancy in New York.

Prosecutors say Maxwell, 59, recruited and prepared four underage girls for Epstein to abuse from 1994 to 2004.

Maxwell, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is the most prominent woman on trial for sexual abuse since the #MeToo movement began.

His lawyers said it had fueled Maxwell’s ‘vitriolic’ coverage since his arrest in July 2020.

“The fact that a woman is now on trial on charges almost exclusively brought against men increases the interest and intrigue of this case,” they wrote in a court file.

The questionnaire that approximately 600 candidate jurors will complete asks them what they have read or heard about Epstein and Maxwell, and their own experiences of sexual abuse or assault.

Some people will be called back from November 16 for follow-up individual questioning by U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who is presiding over the trial.

Consultants to the jury said it should make would-be jurors more comfortable discussing sensitive personal matters and help lawyers rule out people who have preconceived notions about Maxwell’s guilt. Once the process is complete, there will be a jury of 12 plus six alternates.

PUBLICATIONS ON SOCIAL NETWORKS

While many would-be jurors are familiar with the case, those who learned about it through news sources rather than entertainment offerings might be seen as less biased, said Christina Marinakis, director of jury research at Litigation. Insights in Baltimore.

The questionnaire asks if potential jurors have discussed the case on social media. Marinakis said the prosecution and defense would likely check their online posts to be sure.

For the defense, a challenge is that jurors familiar with Epstein can hold Maxwell to a higher standard because she is a woman and because many of Epstein’s alleged victims were minors, said Melissa Gomez, president of MMG Jury. Consulting in Philadelphia. Jurors with a negative view of Epstein may believe that Maxwell had a special obligation to protect daughters from him.

“It won’t just be if she actively participated, but, as a woman, has she failed to protect these other women?” said Gomez.

The defense could seek to seat men who view Maxwell’s accusers as willing participants in sexual activity with Epstein, rather than victims, said Paul Applebaum, a criminal defense attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“You want men on the jury who are still cavemen,” he said.

Reporting by Luc Cohen Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis


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