By the time Ghislaine Maxwell, Dressed in prison blue clothes and shackles, she walked into a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday morning, her descent from the top of society and wealth well in the making. In the two years since Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest of the British heiress on charges of complicity in child sexual abuse, the contrast between her glamorous life and the sordid crimes of which she was accused had been the animating substance of an ongoing international saga and a closely monitored federal case. News crews filled the sidewalks outside the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse as Maxwell waited to hear what her jail term would be.
In late December, after a three-week trial, a federal jury found Maxwell guilty on five charges of complicity in Epstein’s abuse. After New York’s Southern District Probation Service recommended a 20-year prison term, Maxwell’s attorneys argued for four to five years, and the prosecutors demanded between 30 and 55 years. Maxwell is 60 years old. On Tuesday, after hearing statements from victims of Epstein and Maxwell and arguments from the government and Maxwell’s defense, judge ruled Alison Nathan sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Epstein’s 2019 death in federal custody pending trial, which authorities ruled as suicide, sparked a heightened outcry over the financier’s long trail of crimes, his connections to celebrities and world leaders, and the justice he served. would never see. (He negotiated a non-prosecution agreement while pleading guilty to soliciting a child for prostitution in 2008.) Although Epstein never saw his victims in court, Maxwell, his main accomplice who shared in his wealth and status, listened. , in November and December when four women testified about the ruin the couple has brought into their lives.
Tuesday’s sentencing hearing provided a new venue for these bills. Sarah Ransome, whose recent book, no longer silent, told her experiences with Epstein and Maxwell, stood next to the socialite when she spoke to her. She said the couple’s “dungeon of sexual hell” eventually led her to two suicide attempts.
“To Ghislaine, I say, you have broken me in unfathomable ways,” Ransome continued, “but you have not broken my spirit.”
During the victim statements, for the most part Maxwell looked straight ahead or at the table in front of her. In between statements, she occasionally whispered to her lawyers.
“In more ways than one they almost killed me”, Elizabeth Steino she said, turning to Maxwell. She noted that “Ghislaine Maxwell has been free for the past 25 years to live a life of wealth and privilege that is almost incomprehensible.”
When it came time for Maxwell and her lawyers to make their case with Nathan, they offered some fine, but nothing quite as firm as an admission of responsibility. Maxwell’s lead attorney, Bobbi Sternheim drew a parallel between her “narcissistic, sassy father” — the late disgraced publishing baron Robert Maxwell — and the “controlling, demanding and manipulative Jeffrey Epstein” and said her client’s childhood experience should be factored into her sentence.
When Maxwell took the stage shortly afterwards, her statement was her most comprehensive public comment in years.
“It is difficult for me to address the court after listening to the pain and fear expressed in the statements today,” she said in a mostly steady voice.
Maxwell said that in her two years in solitary confinement since her arrest, she had had ample opportunity to reflect on her relationship with Epstein, his “deeply compartmentalized life” and how he “fooled all the people in his job.” . She described her dealings with him as “the greatest regret of my life” and one that “would stain me forever and permanently”.
“Jeffrey Epstein should have been here before all of you,” said Maxwell. She noted the years 2005, 2009 and 2019: “all the times he was accused, charged and prosecuted.”
But while Maxwell admitted that “after all, today isn’t about Epstein,” she apologized to the victims inside and outside the courtroom in a passive voice: “I’m sorry for the pain you experienced.”
In announcing her sentencing decision and its rationale, Nathan paused to parse that kind of language. She noted that the abuse described in the course of the trial happened “by and with Epstein,” repeating those words again. “Maxwell will not be punished instead of Epstein,” Nathan said, in what could amount to a reply to Maxwell’s central argument at the trial: that she had been made a scapegoat. Maxwell was “instrumental” to Epstein’s abuse, Nathan said, and “she participated in some of the abuse.”
Sternheim and Maxwell recognized the courage and pain of the victims who had spoken, Nathan continued. But “what was not expressed,” she said, “was the acceptance of responsibility.”