The sentencing on Tuesday was the culmination of a prosecution that detailed how Epstein and Maxwell flaunted their riches and associations with prominent people to groom vulnerable girls and then exploit them.
Those crimes occurred even as the couple hobnobbed with some of the world’s most famous and wealthy people, including former US presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and England’s Prince Andrew.
US District Judge Alison J Nathan had earlier ruled the federal sentencing guideline she would rely upon in sentencing the 60-year-old Maxwell was a range between 15½ and 19½ years in prison, roughly half of the 30- to 55-year term sought by federal prosecutors. Defence attorneys wanted a five-year term.
The hearing was so long that Nathan called for a half-hour lunch break, unusual for such proceedings.
Maxwell, wearing a blue prison uniform with her ankles shackled and a white mask to conform with coronavirus rules, sat quietly through the first hour of the sentencing hearing as lawyers debated the law.
At least three of her siblings sat in a row behind her. Most of the others in the crowded courtroom were members of the media.
Several women who testified against Maxwell or released statements prior to sentencing also were in court. Two of them — Elizabeth Stein and Sarah Ransome — spoke to reporters outside.
“Today is a day I didn’t think would ever happen, so for me it’s a blessing. It really is. And I’ve prayed for this moment so hard and for so long,” Ransome said.
“It will be very vindicating to speak my statements and have her in the room to hear it,” Stein said.
“Maxwell’s conduct was shockingly predatory. She was a calculating, sophisticated, and dangerous criminal who preyed on vulnerable young girls and groomed them for sexual abuse,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Maxwell denies abusing anyone.
“The witnesses at trial testified about Ms Maxwell’s facilitation of Epstein’s abuse, but Epstein was always the central figure: Epstein was the mastermind, Epstein was the principal abuser, and Epstein orchestrated the crimes for his personal gratification,” defence attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Epstein and Maxwell’s associations with some of the world’s most famous people were not a prominent part of the trial but mentions of friends like Clinton, Trump and Andrew showed how the pair exploited their connections to impress their prey.
Over the past 17 years, scores of women have accused Epstein of abusing them. Many described Maxwell as acting as a madam who recruited them to give massages to Epstein.
The trial, though, revolved around allegations from only a handful of those women.
Four testified that they were abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s mansions in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Three were identified in court only by their first names or pseudonyms to protect their privacy: Jane, a television actress; Kate, an ex-model from the UK; and Carolyn, now a mum recovering from drug addiction. The fourth was Annie Farmer, who identified herself in court by her real name after speaking out publicly.
They described how Maxwell charmed them with conversation and gifts and promises that Epstein could use his wealth and connections to help fulfil their dreams.
Then, they testified, she led them to give massages to Epstein that turned sexual and played it off as normal.
Carolyn testified that she was one of several underprivileged teens who lived near Epstein’s Florida home in the early 2000s and took up an offer to massage him in exchange for US$100 bills in what prosecutors described as “a pyramid of abuse”.
Maxwell made all the arrangements, Carolyn told the jury, even though she knew the girl was only 14 at the time.
The allegations against Epstein first surfaced publicly in 2005. He pleaded guilty to sex charges in Florida and served 13 months in jail, much of it in a work-release program as part of a deal criticised as lenient. Afterward, he was required to register as a sex offender.
Federal prosecutors in New York revived the case against Epstein after stories by the Miami Herald in 2018 brought new attention to his crimes. He was arrested in 2019 but killed himself a month later.
Eleven months after his death, Maxwell was arrested at a New Hampshire estate. A US, British and French citizen, she has remained in a federal jail in New York City since then as her lawyers repeatedly criticise her treatment, saying she was even unjustly placed under suicide watch days before sentencing.
Prosecutors say the claims about the jail are exaggerated and that Maxwell has been treated better than other prisoners.
Her lawyers also fought to have her conviction tossed on the grounds of juror misconduct. Days after the verdict, one juror gave media interviews in which he disclosed he had been sexually abused as a child — something he hadn’t told the court during jury selection. Maxwell’s lawyers said she deserved a new trial. A judge disagreed.
At least eight women submitted letters to the judge, describing the sexual abuse they said they endured for having met Maxwell and Epstein.
In letters to the judge, six of Maxwell’s seven living siblings pleaded for leniency. Maxwell’s fellow inmate also submitted a letter describing how Maxwell has helped to educate other inmates over the last two years.
Anne Holve and Philip Maxwell, her eldest siblings, wrote that her relationship with Epstein began soon after the 1991 death of their father, the British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell.
They said Robert Maxwell had subjected his daughter to “frequent rapid mood swings, huge rages and rejections”.
“This led her to becoming very vulnerable to abusive and powerful men who would be able to take advantage of her innate good nature,” they wrote.
Prosecutors called Maxwell’s shifting of blame to Epstein “absurd and offensive”.
“Maxwell was an adult who made her own choices,” they wrote to the court.
“She made the choice to sexually exploit numerous underage girls. She made the choice to conspire with Epstein for years, working as partners in crime and causing devastating harm to vulnerable victims.
She should be held accountable for her disturbing role in an extensive child exploitation scheme.”