Day three of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial began with the defense resuming its cross-examination of “Jane”—an accuser who’s been granted a pseudonym. Again and again, defense attorney Laura Menninger tried to trip up Jane by highlighting inconsistencies in statements she’s made at various times. Menninger noted things Jane has said in FBI interviews or in meetings with government prosecutors over the past couple of years, and then contrasted them with the testimony that Jane gave in the courtroom yesterday.
Jane, who says she was a victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein, kept her composure amid the onslaught. The defense’s aim was to poke holes in her credibility by suggesting her memory is faulty, but few of Menninger’s gotchas landed. Does it really matter whether Jeffrey Epstein took Jane to see The Lion King on Broadway in prime mezzanine seats when she was 14 (as Jane claimed in one statement) or a few years later, while she was still a teenager (as she later amended)? Seems like the sort of mistake a jury is unlikely to hold against a witness. Menninger also tried to ensnare Jane in a confusing and ultimately fruitless back-and-forth over when she’d first seen Maxwell “without her clothes” (during an alleged incident of abuse) versus when she first saw Maxwell topless (while lounging by Epstein’s pool), which mostly just served as a reminder that Jane remembers seeing Maxwell in states of undress on multiple occasions.
Menninger did, however, create one powerful moment, when she introduced the fact that, in a document prepared by Jane’s personal lawyer prior to the trial, Jane named only Epstein as her abuser, while making no mention of Maxwell. This could undercut Jane’s testimony yesterday that Maxwell was present and intimately involved in some of the abuse Jane alleges. I wouldn’t call it a home run for the defense, as the document didn’t specifically rule out the possibility that Maxwell played a role. But establishing evidence like this is crucial to the defense’s grand strategy, which involves convincing the jury that Maxwell has been retconned into the case—that Ghislaine was never a part of the government’s narrative until Epstein died and the story suddenly required a new antagonist.
In another attempt to discredit Jane, Menninger noted that Jane is a professional actress. Menninger reeled off Jane’s screen credits, which include many years as a featured player on a network soap opera. And she described some of the “melodramatic” (“I prefer just ‘dramatic,’ ” interjected Jane) story arcs that Jane’s TV character has endured—cancer, a car crash, being stalked by a serial killer. “You played a prostitute?” asked Menninger. “Not my favorite storyline,” said Jane. “You took down a Mexican drug cartel?” asked Menninger. This got a laugh from both Jane and courtroom observers. Then came the jab: Menninger suggested that playing a role—in other words, lying effectively—was something that Jane had been vocationally “trained for.”
Jane is notably telegenic, with powder-blue eyes, a jutting jaw, and cheekbones that look like skateboard ramps. Her voice—I think actors term it their “instrument”—is honeyed and mellifluous. All this is surely an advantage in her life in the entertainment industry. The question is whether the jury will distrust her because it senses that she’s acting on the stand.
A few interesting names slipped into the cross-examination. The first was Jane’s own: She accidentally spoke her actual surname aloud as she was reading from a document. It’s not overly difficult to suss out who she is with a bit of internet research, but she seemed briefly mortified when she made the slip-up. She’s described being harassed and bullied—even “blackmailed”—by tabloid journalists trying to pry her story out of her, and she says she’s also fearful that, if her name comes out, casting directors will stop hiring her because it’s “all they’ll see.”
Other people’s anonymity has not been similarly protected. Donald Trump once again received a shoutout, as the defense got Jane to testify that Epstein introduced her to Trump during a visit to Mar-a-Lago. Jane also told Menninger that she’d met Prince Andrew through Epstein. The defense continues to rattle famous men’s names in the jury’s ears, for purposes that so far remain murky.
And then there were some women’s names. Women whom Jane said had been part of Epstein’s orgies, alongside her. Menninger asked if these women would be able to corroborate Jane’s story. Jane said they would. It seems unlikely the defense would have raised this unless they had some reason to believe that these women won’t be showing up in the courtroom.
When the cross-examination came to a close, and the prosecution got its turn for redirect, Jane was asked why she’d decided to testify. “I am here to hopefully find some closure,” she said. Some “peace and healing.” Asked about the millions of dollars she received from the Epstein victim fund, she said it had helped to offset all the money she’s spent over the years “to try to fix myself.” She was weeping.
To this point, the trial had basically been she said, she said. The jury could believe Jane or believe the defense as it tried to tear apart her claims. But now a corroborating witness took the stand. “Matt”—another pseudonym—is also a soap opera actor and Jane’s ex-boyfriend. He dated her from 2006 to 2014, and they remain friends. Matt testified that, while they were dating, Jane had told him about a “godfather” figure who’d kept her family afloat financially after her father died and her mother went broke. Later, when Jeffrey Epstein entered the news after his arrest in 2008, Jane told Matt that Epstein had been the man who gave her money.
But she added something else, according to Matt: She said, “The money wasn’t fucking free.” When Matt asked what she meant, she would only say, “It wasn’t pretty.” Matt also testified Jane told him there’d been a woman at Epstein’s house who’d “made Jane comfortable” despite the horrors that were unfolding there. When Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested, Matt contacted Jane to ask if this was the woman, and Jane said it was.
The day ended with another witness who corroborated some of Jane’s allegations. Daniel Besselsen, an assistant vice president of finance at the Interlochen Arts Camp—where Jane went as a teenager, and where she says she first met Epstein and Maxwell when they happened to be there on a summer visit and she was a camper. Besselsen provided documents that he said he’d pulled from a file cabinet in an Interlochen basement. Among these was a letter confirming that major Interlochen donor Jeffrey Epstein had indeed been at the camp on that day. Epstein was meeting with the camp’s development office because he was donating $250,000 to build a new structure on the institute’s grounds. The building was christened the Jeffrey Epstein Scholarship Lodge. “It’s since been renamed,” Besselsen said.*
Correction, Dec. 3, 2021: This piece originally misspelled Daniel Besselsen’s last name.