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Ghislaine Maxwell jury selection begins for her trial on sex-trafficking charges

Jury selection in the federal sex crimes trial of Ghislaine Maxwell began Tuesday at Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in New York City.
Ed Jones
AFP via Getty Images
Jury selection in the federal sex crimes trial of Ghislaine Maxwell began Tuesday at Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in New York City.

Jury selection in the federal sex-trafficking trial for Ghislaine Maxwell got underway Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom. Judge Alison Nathan questioned potential jurors about the case, looking to winnow down a jury pool of hundreds of people into a panel that will hear charges that Maxwell helped disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse minors as young as 14.

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to the crimes. She's accused of luring minors and young women into Epstein's orbit from the 1990s into the early 2000s, grooming them for sexual abuse and sometimes participating in sexual encounters herself.

Jury selection is expected to be a lengthy process

On Tuesday, Maxwell watched as the judge questioned prospective jurors about the case in the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

A key question centered on whether the jurors were familiar with Maxwell or Epstein's names — and if so, whether what they already know about them would make if difficult to act as a a fair and impartial juror.

During the proceeding, Nathan "was particularly interested in learning whether any members of the jury pool — drawn from a wide area in and around New York City — could remain impartial after suffering sexual harassment or having bad experiences with law enforcement," the Associated Press reports.

The trial is set to begin on Nov. 29, with 12 jurors and as many as six alternates.

Maxwell has remained in federal custody as she awaits trial.

Maxwell's 'black book' will play a role in the case

One of the most intriguing elements of the trial is the role to be played by what prosecutors say is Maxwell's book of contacts — an item that has long fascinated watchers of the case. Epstein and Maxwell moved among the world's wealthy elite, and they were accused of arranging sexual massages and other encounters that paired girls and young women with older men.

Prosecutors say they only plan to use limited excerpts from the book. But they also say testimony during the trial will prove that the book belonged to Maxwell and that it contains "compelling evidence of her guilt," prosecutors said in a recent court filing.

The FBI acquired Maxwell's "black book" in 2009, when Epstein's former butler, Alfredo Rodriguez, attempted to sell the book to an attorney representing one of Maxwell and Epstein's alleged victims. The attorney alerted the authorities, and Rodriguez admitted that he took the book from Epstein's Palm Beach residence, where he worked from 2004 to early 2005. Rodriguez later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice; he died after his criminal case ended.

In court records, the book of contacts is officially known as "Government Exhibit 52." It remains under a court-ordered seal, but prosecutors say the information in it will help establish who and what Maxwell knew — including "an inference that the defendant knew that at least some of these individuals were minors."

Maxwell is accused of procuring and transporting underage girls

Maxwell and Epstein's most prominent accuser is Virginia Giuffre, who has previously run down a list of prominent men with whom she said she was told to have sex, including Britain's Prince Andrew, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and the attorney Alan Dershowitz. All of those men have denied the allegations.

The criminal indictment against Maxwell says she "was in an intimate relationship with Epstein and also was paid by Epstein to manage his various properties."

Prosecutors say Maxwell also helped Epstein procure and transport underage girls for criminal sexual activity.

Federal agents took Maxwell into custody in July of 2020, nearly a year after Epstein was arrestedand charged with sex trafficking minors and paying victims to recruit other underage girls. Roughly a month after his arrest, Epstein died after being found unresponsive in his jail cell in Manhattan. His death was ruled a suicide.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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