Ghislaine Maxwell Case Echoes Vanderbilt Rape Retrial Over Juror ‘Bias’
- Two former Vanderbilt University football players convicted on rape charges in 2015 were retried after it came to light that a juror didn’t disclose his sexual assault.
- Insider spoke to lawyers on both sides of the Vanderbilt rape case about a juror’s conduct upending the verdict.
- Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction on sex-trafficking charges has also come under scrutiny after jurors’ revelations about their own experience with sexual abuse.
When Nashville prosecutor Roger Moore heard that two jurors who convicted Ghislaine Maxwell later revealed they are survivors of sexual abuse, he thought to himself, “been there, done that.”
In 2015, Moore led the prosecution of two former Vanderbilt University football players, Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, on charges of raping a fellow student on campus. Two other former players also faced charges in connection with the rape.
While a state jury convicted Vandenburg and Batey, the judge ordered a new trial after it came to light that the jury’s foreman didn’t disclose that he was a victim of sexual assault.
Having a guilty verdict overturned due to a juror’s actions is “frustrating beyond belief” for prosecutors, Moore told Insider. Vandenburg and Batey were each retried and convicted in 2016; both men were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“Ultimately we got the same result,” Moore told Insider. “We just had to do it twice.”
Legal experts have told Insider that it’s “very likely” Maxwell, a former long-time associate of disgraced financier Jeffery Epstein, will get a new trial on sex-trafficking charges after two jurors revealed that they are victims of sexual abuse.
One juror, who identified himself as Scotty David, told The Independent that his experience as a survivor of abuse led him to believe some of the women who testified against Maxwell, despite gaps in their recollections. The jury went silent when he shared his story during deliberations, David said. A second, anonymous juror told The New York Times that they also shared their experience being sexually abused as a child during deliberations, which they said “appeared to help shape the jury’s discussions.”
In the Vanderbilt case, according to Moore, jury foreman Todd Easter’s revelation came after a man who was convicted of sexually assaulting Easter saw him give a television interview about the trial.
“He said to himself, ‘wait a minute, how did that guy get in a jury?'” Moore said. “So he notifies defense attorneys and they raise the issue.”
Randy Regan, a defense attorney who represented Vandenburg during the retrial, told Insider that Easter had “lobbied” to be the jury foreman for the first trial and was “very forceful” during deliberations. Easter later told the court that when he was 17, he had a consensual sexual relationship with a man in his 20s.
While Easter did not discuss his personal experience during jury deliberations, Judge Monte Watkins wrote in his ruling declaring a mistrial that “actual bias” had “clearly been shown” in the case.
Moore and Regan both told Insider that the Vanderbilt rape case was the only trial they’ve ever worked on where a juror’s conduct resulted in a retrial.
Moore said his office did not pursue perjury charges against Easter because prosecutors could not prove that he knowingly lied during voir dire, the pre-trial procedure where prosecutors and defense attorneys examine each prospective juror to see if they’re suitable to serve. Insider’s attempts to reach Easter were unsuccessful.
During voir dire, Easter was asked if he had “ever been the victim of a crime,” to which he answered that he had not, according to Moore.
“Hypothetically, this was a consensual, statutory rape situation, then he didn’t consider himself a victim,” Moore told Insider. “His parents were the ones who prosecuted.”
Easter was the very last juror to be selected, and “neither side asked him very many questions,” according to Jan Norman, another prosecutor in the Vanderbilt case.
Norman said the state didn’t have jurors fill out questionnaires for the first trial, but did use the forms in the retrial to make sure no potential jurors had watched the first trial on television. The state asked jurors the exact same questions during voir dire in the retrial, according to Moore.
Experts have told Insider that it’s possible jurors in the Maxwell case could face perjury charges if they lied about their experiences with sexual abuse during voir dire.
Potential jurors were given a questionnaire to fill out that asked, “Have you or a friend or family member ever been the victim of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or sexual assault?” While the answers to juror’s questionnaires are sealed, court transcripts show David was not asked follow-up questions on the subject during voir dire, suggesting that he did not disclose his experience on the form.
Regan told Insider that in his view, David doesn’t appear to have disclosed that he was a victim of sexual abuse during Maxwell’s trial, which he said “lends itself to the idea that he wanted to be on this jury.”
People who may have personal motivations for serving on a jury are known as “stealth jurors,” and Moore said there’s ultimately no way to prevent one from being selected. He emphasized that potential jurors should understand the gravity of what they’re being asked to do when they are selected to serve on a jury in a criminal case.
“It’s one of the very few things that you’re asked to do for your country, basically, and the only way the justice system can be fair is if everyone involved in it is honest and truthful,” Moore said. “That’s the bottom line.”