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Sex abuse mastermind or fall woman? Defense witnesses to testify in Ghislaine Maxwell trial

It's still unclear whether Ghislaine Maxwell will take the stand in her own defense, but her lawyers opened up that possibility with their defense strategy.

NEW YORK — A New York City jury has heard four women detail accusations that they were teens when they became victims of a sex-abuse scheme devised by Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. Starting Thursday, the British socialite's attorneys are expected to make their case that Maxwell isn't the one to blame.

Maxwell's trial will resume with the defense calling its own witnesses in federal court in Manhattan. The government's case lasted only two weeks and the defense case could last just two days. Both sides streamlined their witness lists without revealing why, making the trial end well short of an original six-week estimate.

Credit: AP
This courtroom sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell, center, seated in court at defense table between two US Marshals seated in foreground, watching proceedings in her sex abuse trial in New York, Friday Dec. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

The start of the defense case has already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile defendant will take the witness stand in her own defense — a gamble that is almost never taken. Either way, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan will have to receive direct confirmation from Maxwell about her decision before the defense can rest.

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to charges she acted as Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse during sexual massages.

Maxwell was once Epstein’s girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee. Witnesses testified the pair exploited them between 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s homes, including an estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; and a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch.

The defense has insisted that Maxwell is being made a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes by Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019. Her lawyers have sought to show that the accusers exaggerated her involvement at the behest of lawyers seeking payouts for the women from civil claims against the Epstein estate.

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