The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ghislaine Maxwell lawyers say they will seek mistrial after jurors describe their own childhood abuse

Prosecutors on Wednesday urged the judge who presided over the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell to conduct an inquiry into a juror’s reported claims that he was a victim of sexual abuse. (Elizabeth Williams/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell on Wednesday said they will ask for her sex-trafficking conviction to be thrown out and a new trial scheduled after revelations that two jurors may themselves have been victims of sexual abuse and that they discussed their experiences during jury deliberations.

Maxwell was convicted on Dec. 29 of five of six counts, including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking of an individual under 18, after five days of jury deliberations. She faces up to 65 years in prison for her role in the recruitment of young girls and women to give sexualized massages to Jeffrey Epstein, her longtime lover and employer.

Epstein died by suicide while awaiting his own sex-trafficking trial in 2019.

Reuters, The Independent and other outlets reported this week that one juror, who was not identified by his full name, said he told other jurors he had talked about being a victim of sexual abuse while trying to convince other jurors to believe women who testified against Maxwell. The New York Times quoted another juror, who was not named, saying they were sexually assaulted as a child and talked about it during deliberations.

Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime companion of Jeffrey Epstein, stands trial for sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. Here's what to watch for in the case. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Maxwell conviction a symbolic win for sex-assault victims, advocates say

The defense team said they will seek a new trial because the “interest of justice so requires.” The judge set a schedule for both sides to make their arguments about the issue, adding that other post-trial briefings will not be postponed.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, federal prosecutors asked for a hearing a month from now to look into the first juror’s comments to the news outlets. But Nathan asked for a defense motion for a new trial by Jan. 19, with the government’s response due Feb. 2 and the defense reply due a week later.

One question central to the decision will likely be whether either juror falsely answered questions on a prospective-juror questionnaire about any history of sexual abuse. The first juror told Reuters that he “flew through” the questionnaire, which is intended to ensure jurors can devote the time necessary to a trial and hear the evidence without bias. Reuters quoted the juror as saying he does not recall being asked whether he had been a victim of abuse, but would have answered honestly if he was.

“The Court can and should order a new trial without any evidentiary hearing,” Maxwell’s attorneys wrote in a letter to the court.

Nicholas Biase, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said juror questionnaires are not public and declined to comment further. The defense attorneys did not respond to requests from The Washington Post on Wednesday for information about how the juror answered. Neither juror could be reached by The Post either.

Based on photos from his social media account and published by The Daily Mail, the first juror appears to be the same person who stared at one of Maxwell’s accusers for several minutes during a break in her trial testimony last month, locking eyes with her when she looked up. Approached by The Post after the trial and asked for an interview, he speed-walked toward the subway.

Throughout the four-week trial, Maxwell’s legal team tried to poke holes in the testimony of her accusers, including by pointing out inaccuracies in some of their recollections. But the jury sided with the prosecutors for six counts. Maxwell was found not guilty of enticement of one individual under 17 with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity.

Reuters reported that the first juror decided to share his experience of being abused as a child after some jurors questioned the accuracy of the memories of two of Maxwell’s accusers. He said he told them that he remembered most important elements of what happened to him, but not every single detail, and that his description appeared to sway some jurors.

“If I was her legal team, I would pounce,” said Matthew Barhoma, an appeals lawyer in Los Angeles. “I would be all over this issue because it is a major loophole in her conviction.”

However, other experts said the defense could struggle to successfully overturn the verdict if the jurors are not found to have been disingenuous.

“It probably won’t result in the verdict being vacated because the evidence is very, very strong and this information does not seem to me to be central to the ability of the jurors to make an informed and impartial fair verdict,” said Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor and Pace Law School professor who has written about trial errors.