- Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on sex-trafficking charges and faces up to 65 years in prison.
- She can appeal and fight the decision, or start cooperating with investigators.
- Either way, it’s unlikely Maxwell avoids substantial jail time, experts told Insider.
Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and longtime associate of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, was found guilty Wednesday of five charges in her high-profile sex-trafficking trial.
Maxwell was convicted on three conspiracy charges, a separate sex-trafficking count, and of transporting a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. The charges face a potential sentence of 65 years.
The verdict came nearly a year and a half after Maxwell, 60, was arrested and accused of arranging and participating in the sexual abuse of underage girls. In light of the conviction, she has two paths forward, and neither one will necessarily keep her from spending significant time behind bars.
“Maxwell truly has two options — she can fight this case and take it up on appeal, where she will likely face a 65-year sentence, or she can start issuing some names of who else was involved for a substantially lighter sentence,” Matthew Barhoma, a criminal appeals attorney in Los Angeles, told Insider.
Maxwell’s family said they plan to appeal
In a statement Wednesday night, Maxwell’s family said they plan to appeal the decision.
“We firmly believe in Ghislaine’s innocence. Obviously, we are very disappointed with the verdict. We have already started working on the appeal and we are confident that she will be vindicated,” Bobbi C. Sternheim, one of Maxwell’s lawyers, told reporters outside the courthouse in Manhattan.
Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told Insider he does not believe Maxwell has a legal basis to appeal, but that he expects she will anyways.
“She’s going to appeal because otherwise, she’s going to die in federal prison,” Rahmani said, adding that he believed the prosecution’s case against Maxwell was strong.
Barhoma agreed, but said he thought Maxwell could have some strong claims in an appeals process.
For example, one of the four women who testified they were sexually abused was over the legal age of consent at the time of the incident, prompting the judge to instruct jurors not to convict based on her testimony. However, she was still allowed to testify as a witness, and Barhoma said it could be argued in appeals that she improperly influenced the jury.
He also noted it could be argued some of the evidence was “dated or stale” since some of the accusations concern incidents from decades ago.
Even if Maxwell has some success in the appeals process and the case was retried, prosecutors would still likely get a conviction, based on the strength of their case and the other accusers’ testimonies, Barhoma said. It is extremely unlikely, he said, that the conviction gets thrown out entirely.
If Maxwell cooperates, she likely won’t get a ‘free pass’
Many famous and powerful people have been linked to Epstein in one way or another, including former presidents, princes, and wealthy businessmen.
“The most interesting part is what everyone wants to know: is she going to cooperate?” Rahmani said. “Is she going to name names, or does she just appeal and remain silent?”
Maxwell thus far has given the impression that she’s not interested in cooperating in the investigation surrounding Epstein, but that could change in light of her conviction.
“You don’t want to be a snitch, you don’t want to start pointing the finger, but now you’re a convicted felon and you’re looking at decades in federal prison,” Rahmani said. “Do you try to save yourself?”
If Maxwell cooperates, her deal with prosecutors could ultimately depend on the extent of her help, including whether she is willing to testify against others or whether her cooperation results on others being convicted.
Regardless, there are likely minimum sentences that would have to be met. Also working against Maxwell is the fact that Epstein died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting sex-trafficking charges, making her the central figure in the investigation.
Rahmani said given that Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges when he died (though he pleaded guilty in 2007 to solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution), prosecutors will have to be “really sensitive” about giving Maxwell a break in exchange for her cooperation — even if it proves highly valuable.
“It’s really a fine line you gotta walk. You obviously want the information. You want to encourage her to testify. You want to prosecute other people that were actually involved in the sex abuse,” he said. “But you don’t want to give Maxwell a free pass, because she was instrumental to the abuse.”
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