By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Ghislaine Maxwell has asked a U.S. appeals court to throw out her conviction for helping Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls, saying a slew of errors marred her trial and prosecutors made her a scapegoat because the financier was dead.
“The government prosecuted Ms. Maxwell as a proxy for Jeffrey Epstein” to satisfy “public outrage” over the case, making the British socialite the target of unprecedented “vilification,” Maxwell’s lawyers said in a Tuesday night filing with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
Maxwell’s lawyers offered several arguments for dismissing the case or granting a new trial, including that she was immune from prosecution, prosecutors waited too long to charge her, and one of her jurors was biased.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan declined to comment.
Maxwell, 61, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after a Manhattan jury convicted her in December 2021 on five charges for recruiting and grooming four girls for abuse by Epstein between 1994 and 2004.
Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019, one month after being charged with sex trafficking.
Maxwell’s trial team had tried to discredit her accusers and claimed that prosecutors made her case a legal reckoning that Epstein, a registered sex offender, never had.
At Maxwell’s trial, the accusers said Maxwell and Epstein at first made them feel welcome in their orbit before subjecting them into giving Epstein sexualized massages.
Hundreds of women claimed to be victims of Epstein’s abuse, and famous people, most notably Britain’s Prince Andrew, who were friendly with him have seen their reputations tarred or destroyed.
Maxwell, the daughter of late British media mogul Robert Maxwell, retained for her appeal a new legal team led by Arthur Aidala, who in 2020 represented the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein at his first sex crimes trial.
‘DISORIENTED AND DIMINISHED’
The appeal contains some arguments that mirrored arguments that Maxwell’s previous lawyers had made unsuccessfully before, during and after her trial.
They include a contention that Epstein’s 2007 non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in southern Florida, arising from alleged abuse at his Palm Beach mansion, also immunized her by shielding “potential co-conspirators” from prosecution.
Epstein, in exchange for immunity, pleaded guilty in 2008 to a Florida state prostitution charge and served 13 months in jail. That arrangement is now widely considered too lenient.
Maxwell’s lawyers also said the charges were barred by a five-year statute of limitations, and that U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the trial, made multiple errors.
The lawyers said Nathan should have corrected juror confusion about what prosecutors needed to prove, and voided the conviction after one juror failed to disclose before trial that he had been sexually abused as a child.
“Ample evidence” showed that the juror known as Scotty David or Juror 50 “harbored actual bias,” including his inability to separate his past from the evidence, and his statement that the verdict was “for all the victims,” Maxwell’s lawyers said.
Maxwell’s appeal also highlighted other factors that allegedly made her trial unfair.
Prosecutors were accused of having “joined forces” with lawyers representing accusers who were seeking damages in civil litigation “to develop new allegations” against Maxwell.
Maxwell’s lawyers also said her “deplorable” jail conditions – including claims of raw sewage, sleep and water deprivation, and hyper-surveillance – left her “so disoriented and diminished” that she could not meaningfully aid her defense.
Prosecutors are expected to respond to Maxwell’s filing before the appeals court hears oral arguments.
Maxwell is imprisoned in Tallahassee, Florida. She is eligible for release in July 2037, with credit for good behavior and the two years she spent in jail.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Mark Porter and Raju Gopalakrishnan)