How Omicron might affect Ghislaine Maxwell hearing
The judge presiding over the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, a long-time associate of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, has warned that the rapid spread of Omicron in New York could jeopardize the proceedings.
The prosecution, supported by the testimonies of more than 20 witnesses, alleges Maxwell lured underage girls into Epstein’s web of sexual abuse. With little headway made in the proceedings due to the public holidays, the presiding judge has now asked the jury to sit without a recess until it reaches a verdict, for fear the Omicron strain of Covid-19 could derail the trial.
- What are the judge’s concerns?
Speaking to the US media on Tuesday, Judge Alison Nathan warned that New York City was now “at a different place regarding the pandemic than we were only one week ago,” and facing what she described as an “astronomical spike” in infection numbers. Judge Nathan said she was concerned the proceedings could end in a mistrial should significant numbers of jurors or other participants fall ill with the coronavirus. A full jury of 12 is always required, but in another case early in the pandemic, Nathan allowed a juror to participate from home via FaceTime.
- Is she expecting the jury to come to a swifter conclusion?
Judge Nathan sought to allay jurors’ concerns by telling them, “Of course, by this, I don’t mean to pressure you in any way. You should take all the time that you need.” They will not be expected to sit at weekends nor, now, to stay for an extra hour each weekday evening, which had been her initial requirement. The court has a number of safety measures in place: unlike some judges on the federal bench, Nathan does not require jurors to be vaccinated, but they must wear a particular type of mask at all times and deliberate at a designated table that allows them to remain at least six feet apart.
- Would a mistrial mean an acquittal for Maxwell?
Were the case to be ruled a mistrial, Ghislaine Maxwell would not be convicted. However, it wouldn’t automatically mean she was acquitted, either. The prosecutor would likely move that the case be retried with a new jury, although the final say in such matters rests with the judge.
- Has Covid-19 affected other trials?
In the state of Maryland, the judiciary announced on Monday that all jury trials scheduled between December 29 and February 8 would be suspended due to the growing number of Covid infections. Jury trials were also postponed in a similar manner by nearly two dozen US district courts in November 2020.
- So, what charges does Maxwell face?
Maxwell has been charged with enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy charges; sex trafficking of a minor; and sex trafficking conspiracy. In addition, she faces two perjury charges that will not be addressed during the current trial.
- And what was the nature of her relationship with Epstein?
She was Epstein’s girlfriend in the early 1990s and, after they split up, remained a close friend and ended up essentially working for him. The prosecution alleges that her primary role was finding underage girls and luring them into Epstein’s net.
- What is Maxwell’s own stance on these accusations?
She pleaded not guilty to the original six counts, with her lawyers cited by the media as having said that she “vigorously denies the charges, intends to fight them, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.”
- What conditions is she being kept in while incarcerated?
She has been denied bail on multiple occasions because the judge is concerned she might abscond, and has been held in de facto solitary confinement in New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center since July 2020. Maxwell herself has complained that she does not get to properly communicate with her lawyers and that her receipt of legal correspondence is often delayed. She has described the conditions in jail as grim, unsanitary, and unsafe, according to reports.