Ghislaine Maxwell's defense begins after judge denies request for witness' anonymity

NEW YORK — Defense attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime associate of serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, began to present their case on Thursday after a judge denied their request to allow three of their anticipated witnesses to testify under a pseudonym or using only their first names.

In her decision, Judge Alison Nathan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote that the court, "after significant independent research," could not identify a single case in which a court has previously granted the use of pseudonyms to defense witnesses, leading her to believe that the request was unprecedented.

Nathan ruled that, unlike the government's witnesses who were granted anonymity, the defense's witnesses are expected to deny any sexual misconduct by Epstein and Maxwell, so they would not qualify as victims entitled to such protection.

The defense's claims regarding the high-profile nature of the case failed to sway the judge.

"The Defense argues that anonymity is necessary to protect its witnesses from scrutiny and harassment because of the significant publicity this case has garnered," Nathan wrote. "But these generalized concerns are present in every high-profile criminal case. They do not present the rare circumstances that prior courts have found justify the use of pseudonyms."

The defense appears to be centered on downplaying Maxwell's role in Epstein's life and highlighting the fallibility of human memory following two weeks of testimony from multiple women who say Maxwell frequently facilitated, and sometimes participated in, their sexual abuse by Epstein when they were underage.

Thursday's first witness, Maxwell's former personal assistant Cimberly Espinosa, described Maxwell as Epstein's "estate manager," and said that while Maxwell and Epstein "behaved like a couple," they never lived together, and that their relationship changed when they both began to date other people.

Espinosa described Epstein as "a giver" and "a kind person," and testified that during her six years of employment, she never saw either Epstein or Maxwell behave inappropriately with underage girls.

During cross-examination, however, she acknowledged that she worked in Epstein's office and never at his homes, where Maxwell's accusers allege their abuse took place.

A subsequent witness, University of California-Irvine psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus, testified that sometimes people "remember things differently than they actually were." Loftus, an expert on human memory, is not permitted to testify directly about any of Maxwell's accusers, many of whom provided gut-wrenching tales of abuse -- but she said that "emotion is no guarantee you're dealing with an authentic memory."

Human memory "doesn't work like a recording device," Loftus said, and people can "fall sway to misinformation and their memory becomes inaccurate."

Maxwell faces a six-count indictment for allegedly conspiring with and aiding Epstein in his sexual abuse of underage girls between 1994 and 2004. She has been held without bail since her arrest in July 2020 and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

It's unclear whether Maxwell will take the stand during her trial. If convicted, she could spend decades in prison.