Maxwell, who has been held in a Brooklyn jail since her arrest, faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison if convicted on all counts, practically a life sentence.
Maxwell is charged with six counts of allegedly recruiting, grooming, and abusing four juvenile females alongside Epstein at various locations in the United States and the United Kingdom between 1994 and 2004. Prosecutors say in her indictment that she engaged in "group sexual encounters" with Epstein and an underage girl referred to as "Minor Victim-1" in court records from 1994 to 1997.
She allegedly urged the girls to give Epstein massages that would progress into sexual abuse with each victim. The teen and Maxwell would both "engage in sexual activities with Epstein" during massages with Minor Victim-1, according to the accusation.
Legal experts told The Washington Post that the acts she's accused of are spectacular and will elicit an emotional response from jurors before the evidence in the case is given. It's one of the reasons the deck is stacked against Maxwell at trial - and why prosecutors may succeed in getting him convicted, according to the experts.
But it's unclear how the trial will proceed, as well as whether Maxwell would testify in her own defense. Maxwell's legal team may confront obstacles at trial, according to legal experts and seasoned trial attorneys who talked to The Post, as well as techniques that may gain her favor with the jury in their final push to free the disgraced socialite.
According to former assistant US attorney and renowned trial lawyer Gene Rossi, prosecutors would likely describe the charges against her in their opening statement without embellishing or overperforming.
“I expect them to be very cautious but firm — strategic, but not inflammatory. They will underpromise yet over-perform at trial,” Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, according to Rossi.
“The charges themselves speak volumes,” he added. “Anytime you have underage sex trafficking, that charge alone inflames passions and biases of any jury.”
Juror biases could work in Maxwell's advantage, not least because of her gender, according to Jennifer Rodgers, a Columbia Law School instructor.
“Juries are often sympathetic to women defendants generally, and if they can paint her as a type of victim of Epstein as well, that might work in their favor in this regard,” she said. However, Rodgers cautioned that her gender could be a liability for the defense.
“Jurors might not like that she was a woman helping abuse young girls,” she said. “The very fact that she was a woman likely made the victims trust her more, possibly leading to more and more serious abuse than would otherwise have occurred, so this sort of betrayal of her sex might offend at least some of the jurors,” Rodgers added.
Experts say her defense attorneys may hit similar landmines with the jury if they try to portray her as a victim. Maxwell, 59, was born in France and raised in luxury as the daughter of media mogul Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 under strange circumstances.
Because of her love association with Epstein, Maxwell cultivated a character in the British and American media as an affluent socialite who built relationships with prominent individuals all over the world after her father's death.
Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and a slew of other businessmen, politicians, and media personalities were among those with whom Maxwell and Epstein socialized and were photographed. Virginia Giuffre, an Epstein accuser, claims that Epstein sold her to the influential individuals in his entourage, including Prince Andrew. The allegation is denied by the British royal family.
The jury may find it difficult to accept Maxwell's claim that she was a victim of Epstein because of her "chaotic" lifestyle, according to Rossi. “She’s a socialite on steroids,” he said. “She’s an intelligent, mature, forceful woman, flying around the world on private jets, staying in fancy hotels.
“I don’t think the theory that she is being used is going to play well. I think that would insult the intelligence of the jury,” he added. But her defense team could paint her as the victim of federal prosecutors who twice failed to exact justice on sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein committed suicide in a lower Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges brought by the same prosecutors' office that arrested Maxwell.
Because of a non-prosecution agreement he struck with the Justice Department in 2008, Epstein avoided federal prosecution for sex trafficking until his arrest in 2019. As part of the plea deal, Epstein pled guilty to state crimes in Florida and was sentenced to only 13 months in prison.
Since her arrest, Maxwell's lawyers have maintained that she is a scapegoat for the Justice Department and that she was jailed because the government failed to prosecute Epstein. It's an argument that Mark Geragos, a renowned celebrity defense attorney, expects to be addressed in Maxwell's case.
“There’s been kind of a shift from Epstein the monster to Maxwell the mastermind. The cynic in me thinks the defense will point that out,” Geragos told The Post.
“Cynically, if Epstein was still alive, I don’t think you would have seen this shift,” he added.
Since her arrest, Maxwell has maintained her innocence and has made many requests to be released on bond from the federal prison in Brooklyn where she is being imprisoned. In court filings, her lawyers have contended that she is being held in deplorable conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center, including sexual abuse by guards during daily pat-down searches.
The conditions of her incarceration would make her decision to testify at trial especially risky, Geragos added.
“She’s in custody, by all accounts, in a deplorable situation. That can be mentally debilitating,” he said. “You’re up against a very skilled prosecutor who slept in their own bed, who’s well-fed, who got rest. On the stand, it’s mental jiu-jitsu for the client. She’s already, from a psychical and mental standpoint, at a disadvantage.”
Jennifer Rodgers said that if Maxwell takes the stand, which is her choice, it will likely make or break the trial for her. “In any case where the defendant testifies, it tends to become the focal point for the jury, and if she doesn’t do well, it will be devastating to her case,” she told The Post.
In an interview with the Associated Press published Friday, Maxwell’s brother, Ian Maxwell, said her trial has been exaggerated in the media and designed to “break” her.
It’s “the most over-hyped trial of the century without a doubt,” Ian Maxwell said.
“This is designed to break her; I can’t see any other way to read it. … And she will not be broken because she believes completely in her innocence and she is going to give the best account she can,” he continued.
According to Gene Rossi, if there are any fireworks at the trial, they will most likely come in the prosecution' closing statement. “They’ll stick to charges in the opening, then in closing they can go full throttle and give a full-court press,” he said. “Closings could be Armageddon.”