Ghislaine Maxwell entered a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan Tuesday morning a bit before 10 a.m. flanked by a pair of female marshals. Maxwell wore baggy blue prison garb instead of the form-hugging, earth-toned sweaters she’d favored while on trial a couple of months ago. Her hair, sleek and inky then, now showed frizz and gray streaks.
Back when she was being tried on sex abuse charges, Maxwell had been permitted street clothes and a nice haircut, because if she’d appeared in court looking like she’d come straight from a jail cell, it might have negatively swayed the jury’s impression of her. Today, though, months after she was found guilty on some of those sex abuse charges, there was no jury. Or, actually, correction: There was one juror. Juror 50.
In January, shortly after Maxwell’s guilty verdict came down, Juror 50 (who’s been granted anonymity by the judge) gave some interviews to major media outlets. He revealed that he’d been sexually abused as a child, and that he’d drawn on that experience during jury deliberations. He said he’d discussed his past with his fellow jurors because he thought it would help inform their assessments of Maxwell’s behavior. There was one huge problem with this: On the jury questionnaire that all potential jurors filled out before the trial began, this juror had answered “no” to a question about whether he’d been a victim of sexual abuse and “no” to a question about whether he’d been a victim of a crime.
When Juror 50’s false answers came to light, Maxwell’s lawyers naturally cried foul. Had they known this potential juror was a sex abuse victim, they certainly would have questioned him about it during voir dire. It seems like a very good bet they’d have tried to keep him off the jury. And who knows how deliberations would have gone if he hadn’t been in that jury chamber, sharing his thoughts?
Which is why Juror 50 was hauled into court today. He began the morning sitting in the courtroom’s jury box, which was where he sat during Maxwell’s trial. But this time he was the only juror there—and his attorney was next to him. Once the proceeding began, Juror 50 walked a few steps across the courtroom to a new seat, in the witness box. The observer became the observed.
Juror 50 could have faced legal consequences for false answers on his jury questionnaire, and he’d threatened to invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges not to self-incriminate. But Judge Alison Nathan granted him immunity from prosecution—provided he told the truth during today’s testimony. She felt it was vital he be compelled to speak, to get to the bottom of this mess. With that established, Nathan began to ask him questions.
Had he filled out the jury questionnaire accurately? No, he said. In fact, he now clarified, he’d been sexually abused when he was 9 and 10 years old by a stepbrother and a friend of that stepbrother. He said he hadn’t told anyone until high school, when he informed his mother, and that no charges had ever been brought against the perpetrators.
Why had he answered falsely on the jury form? “I flew through this questionnaire,” he said. “I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.”
Why hadn’t he been more diligent when he filled out the questionnaire? He said he was “super distracted” because he was thinking about a recent romantic breakup and was “sitting in my feelings.” He added: “I never thought I’d be put on this jury. The sheer volume of people [in the jury pool] was insane.” He said he was thinking to himself, as he rushed through the questionnaire, “Why am I still reading this? You’re never going to get chosen, let’s get this done.”
Did he hope to be put on the jury? Did he “tailor” his responses in an effort to increase his chances of being put on the jury? Was he plotting to be put on the jury so that he could place his “thumb on the scale”? No, he said. This was all “an honest mistake.” He said it was one of the worst mistakes of his life, and that he wanted to “apologize for wasting a lot of people’s time and money.”
He seemed credible as he said all this. I believed him. But then he talked about how his experience as a sexual abuse victim played into his thinking as a juror. “It did not affect my ability to be fair and impartial at all,” he said. “I was definitely able to set everything aside in order to be fair and impartial.” And this is where it gets tricky.
Juror 50’s experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse clearly informed how he thought about the case; he told multiple media outlets that he’d brought his victimhood to bear on jury deliberations. In light of this, can we still believe he was “impartial”?
That’s the thing about our bizarre jury system. It relies on regular people to bring their own accumulated wisdom into the courthouse. Jurors are routinely asked by judges to use their “common sense” in considering a trial’s evidence—common sense that the jurors have presumably developed through their life experiences. Juror 50’s life experiences seem particularly relevant here.
Yet we also permit an element of gamesmanship when it comes to selecting a jury. During voir dire, lawyers for each side attempt to suss out the backgrounds of potential jurors, and in some cases try to eliminate jurors with backgrounds that might seem likely to produce a certain worldview. This, too, is part of our weird system.
The key question is whether this will be enough for Maxwell to get a new trial. If she does, it will mean another circus at the courthouse. It will mean that witnesses (some of whom broke down crying on the stand) might need to come back and tell their stories all over again. And it will, of course, be a field day for the conspiracists.
For the people who think that Maxwell and her partner in crime Jeffrey Epstein are simply one small part of a global conspiracy that involves (depending on whom you ask) Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and the Mossad, the news about Juror 50 was simply more confirmation. Confirmation that someone is pulling the strings, trying to make this case go away. A few of the conspiracists who’d been in the courthouse every day during Maxwell’s trial came back today, to look Juror 50 in the eye. They of course knew Juror 50’s real name, where he lives, and who pays him.
“Do you know who he works for?” one affable conspiracist asked me, before naming one of the largest private equity groups in the world. “Seems like a pretty big coincidence.” Funny how your worldview can shape what you believe.
Read all of Seth Stevenson’s coverage of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial.