Citing COVID, judge prods Maxwell jury to work longer hours

Tom Hays and Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

New York – The judge presiding over the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell cited an “astronomical spike” in the number of coronavirus cases in New York City as she explained Tuesday why she was urging jurors to work longer hours.

Judge Alison J. Nathan said aloud what had largely gone unmentioned in her previous requests to get the jury to work an extra day last week and longer hours this week as it decides whether Maxwell recruited and groomed teenage girls to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein. The jury declined to work an extra day last week.

“We now face a high and escalating risk that jurors and trial participants may need to quarantine,” Nathan told lawyers. “We are simply in a different place regarding the pandemic than we were a week ago.”

Late Monday, the judge told jurors they should expect to deliberate until at least 6 p.m. beginning Tuesday rather than stopping at 5 p.m., as they had earlier.

Fueled by the omicron variant, coronavirus cases in the city have rocketed from an average of about 3,400 a day in the week that ended Dec. 12 to 22,000 in the week that ended Sunday.

Laura Menninger, a defense lawyer, told Nathan on Monday that any suggestion that the jury stay later “is beginning to sound like urging them to hurry up.”

“We would object to trying to urge them to stay later if they are not asking to do so and aren’t expressing any difficulty in proceeding with the deliberations that they are currently undertaking,” Menninger said.

Menninger noted that the jury was continuing to request transcripts of trial testimony and other materials that indicate they are working diligently.

Tuesday marked the fourth full day of deliberations as jurors decide Maxwell’s fate on six charges alleging she played a crucial role in Epstein sexual abuse of teenage girls between 1994 and 2004.

Defense lawyers have said Maxwell, 60, is being used as a scapegoat by prosecutors after the U.S. government was embarrassed by Epstein’s suicide at a federal jail in Manhattan in August 2019 while he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 and has remained in jail after Nathan repeatedly rejected bail attempts, including a $28.5 million package with 24-hour armed guards to ensure she did not flee.