The judge in British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex abuse trial has urged jurors to be cautious of a surge in COVID-19 cases as they broke for Christmas, after deliberating for two full days without reaching a verdict.
Ms Maxwell, 59, is accused of recruiting and grooming four teenage girls for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, her ex-boyfriend and employer, between 1994 and 2004.
She has pleaded not guilty to six counts of sex trafficking and other crimes. Epstein took his own life in 2019 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
On Wednesday (local time), US District Judge Alison Nathan dismissed jurors for the long weekend for the festive holiday – Christmas Day is also Ms Maxwell’s 60th birthday.
Ms Maxwell is detained at Brooklyn’s notorious Metropolitan Detention Centre, where she has said her cell has been plagued by vermin and the scent of raw sewage.
Deliberations will resume on Monday.
“Please stay safe over the long weekend,” Judge Nathan told jurors.
“Obviously we’ve got the [Omicron] variant and I need all of you here and healthy on Monday.”
Along with the cases of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and singer R. Kelly, Ms Maxwell’s case is among the highest-profile trials to take place since the emergence of the MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse by famous and powerful people.
The Manhattan federal court jury requested transcripts of the testimony of four women who said Ms Maxwell played a crucial role in their abuse by Epstein.
That suggests they are scrutinising their accounts carefully, after Ms Maxwell’s lawyers focused their defence on challenging the accusers’ credibility.
To be sure, the requests do not indicate what jurors are thinking regarding Ms Maxwell’s guilt or innocence.
On Tuesday, they asked to review the testimony of three of the women: Jane, Carolyn, and Annie Farmer. Ms Maxwell’s lawyers had questioned the women aggressively about why their stories appeared to shift over the years.
On Wednesday, the jury asked to read transcripts of the accounts of the fourth accuser, a woman testifying under the pseudonym Kate, and Juan Alessi, the former house manager at Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate who said he saw Jane at the property.
Kate said she was 17 in 1994 when Ms Maxwell introduced her to Epstein in London. Kate testified that she then had several sexual encounters with Ms Epstein.
Judge Nathan instructed the jury that Kate was above the age of consent at the time, so she was not the victim of any crime. But the judge said they could consider her testimony if they found it useful in evaluating the charges against Ms Maxwell.
Deliberations began late on Monday afternoon following a three-week trial.