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Opening arguments begin in the Ghislaine Maxwell case

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Opening statements began today in the trial against Ghislaine Maxwell. She is the former companion of Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender whose death in federal custody was ruled a suicide. Maxwell is charged with enabling and participating in sexual exploitation of minors on Epstein's behalf. NPR's Jasmine Garsd was at the federal courtroom in Manhattan today, where the trial is taking place. And, Jasmine, begin with what was said in opening statements today.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Prosecutor Laura Pomerantz started off by telling the story of a woman who says she was approached when she was 14 years old by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and sexually abused and exploited for years. She's one of the four women who will be taking the witness stand. And the prosecutor repeatedly emphasized the words children and kids. And they very much painted a picture that involved class - children who often came from poor families, broken families, single-parent families who say they were targeted and exploited by Epstein and Maxwell. Most importantly, they said they will prove that Maxwell was, quote, "essential" to Epstein abusing these girls, that she knew exactly what was going on and that she herself was a predator. And she did all this, in part, as a means to stay involved in Epstein's lavish lifestyle.

Now, defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim, on the other hand, started off her statement going all the way back to Adam and Eve and how Eve took the fall for Adam, a point she repeated several times. The point she's making is Maxwell didn't know about Epstein's lifestyle, and she's now taking the fall for him.

SHAPIRO: This case has received a lot of attention, much of it focusing on Jeffrey Epstein. So tell us more about the defendant, Ghislaine Maxwell.

GARSD: Maxwell is the daughter of British media mogul Robert Maxwell. In the early '90s, she had a romantic relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. And it's alleged that she went on to be the person who procured very young girls for him, sometimes even partaking in the abuse. And she's facing several felony counts, including trafficking of minors. Maxwell was arrested in 2020, about a year after Jeffrey Epstein died in a Manhattan Correctional Center in what was ruled a suicide. Her defense team is arguing that this is a trial of Jeffrey Epstein by proxy.

SHAPIRO: What's the timeframe? How long is this expected to last?

GARSD: It's being said that this is going to last six weeks, but there is a lot of ground to cover here. The prosecution said they're going to be calling in relatives of accusers who are going to testify about the relationship between Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell and underaged girls. They also promised to call in the some of Epstein's former employees, who will testify that Maxwell imposed a culture of silence in order to allow the sex abuse to happen. Now, the defendants seem to be taking the route of proving that Maxwell was an upstanding, cultured and respected citizen, and not the monster she's being portrayed as.

SHAPIRO: Any sense of whether we will hear from some of the high-profile figures, from politicians to royals, who were associated with Epstein?

GARSD: That has been shrouded in mystery so far. There is a sense that we're going to get some excerpts of Ghislaine Maxwell's notebook, which contained some contacts. But so far, it remains to be seen.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thanks for your coverage of the trial.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.