Ghislaine Maxwell makes court appearance to plead not guilty to sex trafficking charges
It was the day Ghislaine Maxwell had spent nine months and 13 days waiting for – the chance to plead her innocence in front of a packed New York courtroom.
An arraignment is usually a procedural affair, particularly in the time of Covid where defendants mostly opt to appear via videolink, but Ms Maxwell was determined to have her moment before the judge.
The British socialite on Friday appeared in person for the first time since her arrest in July.
She plead not guilty to the latest sex trafficking charges against her. Ms Maxwell had been granted rare permission by Judge Alison Nathan to attend the courthouse.
The 59-year-old had already pleaded not guilty to charges of recruiting and grooming teenage girls from 1994-1997 to provide sexual massages to her one-time boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.
The latest allegations involved the sex trafficking of a minor. Ms Maxwell’s lawyers have been claiming for months that she has lost weight and that her hair has been falling out as a result of the “Kafkaesque” prison conditions in a Brooklyn federal prison.
Her court appearance was the first time she has been seen by members of her family since she was arrested in a dawn raid on the home she shared with her husband Scott Borgerson in New Hampshire in July.
It was not initially clear whether Mr Borgerson, an American entrepreneur, was in court.
Little has been seen of Mr Borgerson since the 44-year-old stepped down from his tech company CargoMetrics to avoid being a “distraction”.
The defendant’s brother, Ian Maxwell, who after months of silence last month launched a PR campaign to have his sister freed from custody, was unable to travel from the UK due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Due to the coronavirus most hearings in the Southern District of New York are taking place via Zoom or through a dial-in phone line.
However, Ms Maxwell requested to appear in person after a January hearing held by videolink was hijacked by 14,000 QAnon conspiracy theorists who illegally streamed the proceedings on YouTube.
Those present in the courtroom were required to undergo strict temperature checks and made to wear two masks. Sources close to the Maxwell family told The Telegraph that Friday’s appearance was about her wanting to “face her accusers head on”, as well as it being a welcome break from her prison cell at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center.
Ms Maxwell’s legal team has applied for bail and been rejected three times. Judge Nathan ruled that with three passports and considerable assets she continued to be a significant flight risk.
In the latest appeal, Ms Maxwell even offered to rescind her British and French citizenship in order to leave prison to prepare for her trial at home.
Appealing to a higher court, her lawyers told the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals that Ms Maxwell has not been given an adequate opportunity to prove that she would not flee if she was allowed to await trial at home under 24-hour armed guard and with collateral posted to support a $28.5 million (£20m) bail.
The bond – one of the largest in US history – comes from joint funds from Mr Borgerson, as well as money put up by family members and friends.
Ms Maxwell has claimed she is being scapegoated for Epstein’s crimes and that her continued detention is a form of “sexism”, pointing to the release on bail of a number of notable men who faced comparable charges, including Bernie Madoff, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Ms Maxwell’s team has also complained about the conditions of her detention, which brother calls “tantamount to torture”.
They say she is housed in a 6ft by 9ft cell with a concrete bed, that guards shine a torch into her room at intervals of 15 minutes through the night and that the prison food is “inedible”.