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The 1st witnesses in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell took the stand this week

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The first witnesses in the trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell took the stand this week in Manhattan federal court. Maxwell is accused of helping financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein sexually exploit girls. Epstein died in 2019 while awaiting his trial. Maxwell is charged with several felony counts, including the trafficking of minors. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been in the courtroom all week.

Hey there, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good evening.

KELLY: So the jury has heard from one accuser so far. What did she say on the stand?

GARSD: The woman who testified went by the pseudonym Jane. And she was very emotional as she testified that she was 14 when the abuse at the hands of Epstein and Maxwell began. She talked about how Epstein and Maxwell first approached her at a summer camp for the arts for which Epstein was a donor. She spoke about carrying this shame over the sexual abuse that she says did not stop until she was 16.

KELLY: Do we know if other accusers will be testifying?

GARSD: As far as other witnesses for the prosecution, we've been told very little about who might testify in what's thought to be - it's going to be a six-week trial. But we do know that three more accusers, who are all now adults, are expected to take the stand.

KELLY: Having watched all week, what stood out to you in court?

GARSD: When I went home on Wednesday night after court, I kept thinking about the testimony given that day by Matt, which is also a pseudonym. He's the ex-boyfriend of Jane, the accuser I just mentioned. And Matt talked about how, when they were dating years ago, she told him about her, quote, "godfather" who helped her family financially. And that was Jeffrey Epstein. And he recalled her telling him - he recalled a fight between Jane and her mother in which Jane yelled, how do you think I got the money, Mom? And his recollections were extremely poignant.

KELLY: Do we have any idea what the defense strategy will be to fight that?

GARSD: In opening statements, Maxwell's lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said this case is about money, memory and manipulation. So the defense has been grilling witnesses during cross-examination about their capacity to accurately remember events from around two decades ago. Maxwell's team has also questioned, why are the accusers coming forward now, 20 years later? And the prosecution has countered that people talk about surviving abuse when they're ready to.

But perhaps what's most glaring to me is what the defense is not talking about, which is Ghislaine Maxwell. She's barely been mentioned. The bulk of what the defense has been talking about is Jeffrey Epstein, who's dead. And yet this is very much feeling like his trial. And that seems to be intentional to make Maxwell essentially invisible, as if to say she wasn't really a part of all this.

KELLY: That's so interesting because, of course, she is the person on trial. And the prosecution's job here is going to be to prove that she was key to enabling all this abuse. So far, are they doing that?

GARSD: They've driven home the point that Maxwell was an integral part of Jeffrey Epstein's life. Yesterday, Juan Alessi took the stand. He said he worked at Epstein's Palm Beach mansion for nearly a dozen years as house manager, and he described Maxwell as the lady of the house. But, you know, it's one thing to show that Maxwell and Epstein had an intimate relationship or to show that Epstein had a pattern of abusing underage girls. But what the prosecution will have to do in the coming weeks is prove that Maxwell was procuring girls for him and helping him orchestrate the whole thing.

KELLY: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.