Because of Jeffrey Epstein’s untimely death, US District Judge Richard Berman held a hearing today to dismiss the indictment.
In a twist, the judge allowed the alleged victims to make statements at the hearing. Instead of being held, as previously scheduled, at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse, the hearing was held in a larger room at the older, venerable, Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse.
Waiting to enter the courtroom, I saw a tall woman wheeling a baby in a stroller. She turned out to be an Epstein victim, represented by Gloria Allred.
Judge Berman began by thanking everyone for their hard work. He said the news on August 10th that Epstein was found dead in his cell was shocking. The anticipated next step would have been the defense motions, followed by a jury trial in which the accusers and the accused would meet face to face, and everyone would get their day in court.
The judge called Epstein’s death a stunning turn of events.
Judge Berman disagreed with the article and gave examples to bolster his decision, adding that there has not been much minimization of the drama in this case. It’s better to involve the victims before rather than after.
He also mentioned that one of the authors is counsel in one of the Epstein related cases.
Maurene R. Comey, a prosecutor, assured the judge that the government would still pursue others who may have aided Epstein, saying those investigations “have been ongoing, remain ongoing and will continue.”
Prosecutors also said a grand jury was investigating Epstein’s death.
Reid Weingarten, one of Epstein’s lawyers, asked Judge Berman to conduct an independent investigation into Epstein’s death.
Weingarten said Judge Berman could hold hearings or assign an independent lawyer.
A lawyer for Epstein also brought up the serious improprieties in the jail. There are allegations that people falsified documentation. Epstein was never to be left alone.
The defense was also assured from medical and scientific professionals that Epstein’s injuries were more consistent with assault than suicide.
Regarding Epstein’s death, he said defense lawyers did not see a despondent or suicidal person. Moreover, “We have heard that the [surveillance] tapes were either corrupted or not functioning.”
The defense heard that the tape system was broken for six months. But what if the tapes were only inoperative or corrupted on the day he died? The defense stated that these are incredibly important questions, that there are conspiracy theories galore, and the court has the authority to find out what happened. This is important for the public to have confidence in the system.
Conditions in US Federal Prison Are Like Third World
Conditions at the jail were dreadful, both for Epstein and other inmates. Vermin, abuse, it’s a disgrace, his lawyers said.
He cited reports that conditions at Guantanamo Bay are better.
A second defense lawyer said that the government should keep its defendants safe.
He also spoke of conditions at the jail, citing vermin, wet floors from leaking plumbing, no sunlight, limited exercise. No defendant should be subjected to this.
The government [judiciary] should see what kind of conditions exist 50 or 100 yards from the court.
He reiterated the assertion that no new evidence surfaced of any Epstein crimes taking place after 2005.
He said the defense had an attendant doctor at the autopsy, who found the broken bones in Epstein’s neck more consistent with external pressure; Homicide, rather than suicide. The time of death was at least 45 minutes before he was found but may have occurred hours before.
He was moved after he was found, which makes the scene more difficult to reconstruct.
Like the other defense lawyer, he also asked when the dysfunction of the video was known to MDC.
“We ask your honor to find out what happened to our client,” he said.
The prosecution responded that the circumstances of Epstein’s death were the subject of ongoing and active investigations, and that it was not relevant to today’s hearing.
Alleged Victims Began to Line up
The many alleged Epstein victims began to line up in the aisle of the gallery, and subsequently found seats.
The prosecution stated that some witnesses did not come out of fear of public exposure. Some used their names, and some did not.
The government attorney took issue with the law journal article, which she said seems to say that transparency is not important. She said that assertion is tough to swallow.
Alleged victim Courtney Wild’s attorney, Brad Edwards, said she came to him in asking for the government to talk to her, not to sue him for money.
A few months later, they learned of the secret plea deal. The victims were treated as though they did not matter.
Edwards thanked Judge Berman for making things very different now. The victims are not ‘one size fits all.”
He said this hearing means a lot to the victims. If they were accorded their rights, would any of us be here now?
Wild said she was 14 years old and wearing braces when she was recruited outside a high school to give Epstein massages.
“Jeffrey Epstein robbed myself and all the other victims our day in court to confront him one by one—and for that, he is a coward,” she said. “I am angry and sad that justice has never been served in this case.”
Wild broke into tears.
Jane Doe 1, who had a hesitant speaking manner, cried when she said she read other victim stories that were similar to her own. A lot of girls were raped, and change needs to happen.
Jane Doe 2 said the experience was really hard to explain to people who have not gone through it. Things happened slowly over time. We are not bad people. We were vulnerable and sometimes in extreme poverty.
Jane Doe 3 came from a small town to New York City to be a model. She met a female who told her about an amazing man who was able to help her. At Epstein’s home, she was sexually assaulted. She was ashamed, embarrassed. This was not how she was brought up. Her world spiraled. She stopped modeling, became depressed, and left New York. She buried what happened deep within her.
Jane Doe 4 said Epstein took away the future she had envisioned for herself, and she will never fully heal.
Jane Doe 5 seemed to be speaking of her assault and trauma. She was in tears throughout, her voice choked with emotion.
Next came Chauntae Davies, an aspiring masseuse. She said Epstein flew her to his private island in the Caribbean, where his associate instructed her to give him a massage.
She said the encounter became violent when Epstein grabbed her wrist and pulled her body “onto his already naked body,” she said.
She begged him to stop but “that just seemed to excite him more” and he raped her. The abuse continued for three years. She had been conditioned to accept it.
She spoke of every [subsequent] relationship that she had to end. In a strong and confident tone, she said, “I found my voice now. I needed him to hear the pain he caused.” She added that Epstein’s death gave her no satisfaction.
Another alleged victim said it’s tragic when someone dies, but she is truly relieved that Epstein will not be in a position to hurt any more children.
A letter from alleged victim Michelle Acosta was read in court. She was told that Epstein would be held accountable, but then there was the secret plea deal, making her feel she was treated as if she did not matter. She said this time it was completely different. Her attorney was able to tell her what happened at every stage. Now, she feels that she and the other victims matter.
A legal speaker, Paul Cassell, a former judge, said transparency is the overriding objective. Victims need to be treated with fairness and respect. He said the one positive thing that came of this was to allow the victims to come forward. Judge Cassell encouraged Judge Berman to publish his decision.
Judge Berman had not been aware that Cassell was going to speak, and he was pleased that Cassell had traveled to New York in order to do so.
Another lawyer who represented five alleged victims said that Epstein could not have done what he did on such a scale without co-conspirators.
His first client who spoke said 17 years ago she came from California to New York. What happened was a dark corner in her life. She felt shame and anger for normalizing it. Now it’s time to bring light to replace the darkness. It was a phase in her life that she is no longer covering up. Jeffrey Epstein is no longer here, but the women who helped him are. She mentioned the name of Ghislaine Maxwell.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre spoke next. Like many others, she thanked the judge for allowing her to address the court. She thought she was being given her big break, but her hopes were quickly dashed, and her dreams stolen. But the reckoning and accountability have begun.
Annie Farmer spoke. She also appreciated the opportunity to speak, and was sorry others did not have the opportunity to do so. She was disappointed by Epstein’s death but encouraged to hear of the continuing investigation.
The next woman was a model who agreed to meet Epstein at his house.
Attorney Lerner from Lerner & Lerner described a client’s experience. She was 14 years old. What he could not buy, he forcibly took.
He surrounded himself with facilitators. She asked that all enablers and co-conspirators be brought to justice, Epstein no longer has power over her. Then a client described, in tears, how Epstein stole her chances for love by making her too scared to trust anybody. She was ashamed and embarrassed until she found out there were other victims.
“The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at my soul,” said Jennifer Araoz, who accused Epstein of raping her when she was a 15-year-old student at a performing arts high school in New York. “They let this man kill himself and kill the chance of justice for so many others in the process, taking away our ability to speak.”
Next came victims represented by attorney Lisa Bloom. Jane Doe 7 said she used to be carefree, hopeful, and excited about life. Her life became dark. Epstein and his recruiter “ruined me.” In the immediate aftermath, she was unable to function. Her parents brought her home and she became a recluse for years. She thought she did this to herself and that she had allowed it to happen, and she felt she didn’t deserve to be happy. She spoke of a reckoning, and thanked Judge Berman.
Jane Doe 8 feels she is still a victim. There is no closure because Epstein took his own life. She and others will never have an answer why or an apology. In choosing death, Epstein denied everyone justice. She still wants closure.
As if to save the most dramatic for the end, Gloria Allred’s clients were the last to speak. Some had sent statements, read by Ms. Allred.
She thanked the Judge, and said many victims never even told their own families what happened to them. Allred said it would increase confidence to have the court oversee the investigation into Epstein’s death because the court is a neutral party.
She asked if there was a way to keep the record open for victims who were not present, or had not yet spoken to an attorney. She said this is about power, and the fear that rich and powerful men have power to silence the victims.
Jane Doe 9, in tears, also said she is still a victim of Jeffrey Epstein. She is fearful for her daughter and for everyone’s daughter in a world where there are predators and cowards. She was 17 years old and she thought she found someone who cared about her. Epstein took advantage of that poor girl who will never be the same. ‘He thought he was untouchable and so did I.’
Jane Doe 10 related that when she was 15 she was on a plane to the ranch. Paraphrase: ‘When I was molested, he explained to me how beneficial this experience was to me and how he was helping me to grow. After he had finished, he told me to describe how good my first sexual experience had felt.’
Allred read a statement of another victim. She was from a small Texas town, her mother died when she was 11, and the family was poor. At 15, a lady approached her and told her she worked for a rich man. She could arrange transportation and the girl would be there and back before anybody knew about it. Over four visits, things progressed to oral copulation. She stopped going. She took a gun to kill herself, but remembering her mother’s voice stopped her. She said Epstein took the easy way out.
Another victim statement read by Allred, paraphrased: I was a 16-year-old virgin when Jeffrey Epstein first raped me. I was impressed by him – he called celebrities in my presence, as well as award-winning actresses and supermodels. They always took his calls. My mother wanted us to go to college. My life was turbulent. He promised me a letter of recommendation to Harvard, saying he was donating money to them. A massage turned sexual almost immediately. Even if I resisted, I was no match for him. I wanted to vomit. The progression was constant and unending. I had never even kissed a boy. Epstein never kissed me. He said, ‘If you’re not a virgin I will kill you.” Then I wasn’t a virgin. I protested. He forced my face into the bed. If I missed an appointment, he said, “I’ll bury you. I own this f’ing town.” Then the appointment was rescheduled. He was the master of the universe, the world bent to his will. I felt less human. One day I walked out and saw another girl. I had an epiphany. I realized I was one of many. I went into a deep depression and locked myself away from everything. I could never go back to my old life. How easy it is to manipulate a 16-year-old virgin. I went into therapy and took antidepressants. They say you never forget your first time. I’m trying to do just that. Years later I married. When Epstein was arrested I thought, I’ll show him I am worthwhile. His ghost is laughing at us.
Allred read a final victim statement. She was a model from another country. A booker said she should meet Epstein in order to be a Victoria’s Secret model. She went to the mansion. A woman told her to be nice to Epstein. He met her wearing a robe. He took the robe off. The door was locked. He touched her genitals. She refused. A girl outside said to be careful if I didn’t do what Epstein wanted.
The hearing ended and Judge Berman thanked everyone for their participation. The Epstein victim who came with her baby appeared outside with Gloria Allred and another victim. Allred said Judge Berman was paying attention and listened carefully to all the victim’s statements, and she thanks him for that.