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"The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein," defence attorney Bobbi Sternheim said.
Maxwell is on trial in Manhattan federal court for recruiting and grooming four young girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-abuse charges.
Prosecutors say that Maxwell - a former employee and romantic partner of Epstein's - sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with the girls to win their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages, according to the 2021 indictment against her.
"She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused," Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in the prosecution's opening statement.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes, including two counts of perjury that will be tried at a later date. Maxwell, who appeared in court wearing a white face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Maxwell's trial comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R. Kelly accused of misconduct. The case against Maxwell stands out in part because she is a woman.
Four accusers are expected to testify as government witnesses in the trial.
Maxwell frequently wrote during the morning proceedings, sometimes handing notes to her lawyers.
Prosecutors have said that Maxwell encouraged the girls to massage Epstein while they were fully or partially nude. In some cases, Epstein or Maxwell would pay them cash or offer to pay for their travel or education, and Epstein sometimes masturbated or touched the girls' genitals during the massages, prosecutors said.
Pomerantz described Maxwell as "essential" to Epstein's abuse of the girls, seeking to undermine the defence's expected argument that she was not aware of Epstein's alleged crimes.
"Sometimes, she was even in the room for the massages herself, and sometimes she touched the girls' bodies," Pomerantz said. "And even when she was not in the room, make no mistake: she knew exactly what Epstein was going to do with those children when she sent them to him inside the massage rooms."
Maxwell's lawyers have said that prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat.