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Ghislaine Maxwell wields ‘false memory’ expert to undercut sex ring witnesses

The defense summoned to the stand a prominent psychology professor who has previously relayed her decades of research on misinformation and false memories in the trials of Harvey Weinstein, Robert Durst, O.J. Simpson and Jerry Sandusky.

MANHATTAN (CN) — “Emotion is no guarantee that you’re dealing with an authentic memory,” Elizabeth Loftus, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, testified Thursday afternoon as defense witness in Ghislaine Maxwell’s criminal sex trafficking trial.

Maxwell — a British heiress, former socialite and ex-girlfriend of pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein — faces six criminal counts in the Southern District of New York in connection with allegedly recruiting and trafficking teenage girls for sexual abuse by Epstein.

Loftus was summoned to the plexiglass booth witness stand by Maxwell’s defense team at noon on Thursday to share her expertise on “false memories” and the so-called “misinformation effect,” as she has previously done in trials of Harvey Weinstein, Robert Durst, O.J. Simpson and Jerry Sandusky.

"One thing we know about memory is that it doesn't work like a recording device,” Loftus said, later explaining that her research about memory has shown “people get confident about their wrong answers” after being exposed to “post-event suggestion.”

Loftus’ testimony Thursday afternoon on how emotion and confidence can affect memories was closely reminiscent of defense testimony delivered at Weinstein’s sex crime trial nearly two years ago, two blocks away at the Manhattan Criminal courthouse.

As certified by the witness in direct testimony, Lotus has testified in approximately 300 trials since 1975 but has only been asked to consult with the prosecutors five or six times in that time, ultimately testifying just once for prosecutors.  Her expertise about false memory does not fit into the prosecution's "agenda,” she said during direct defense questioning.

Loftus appeared flustered, however, during cross-examination Thursday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz emphasized that Loftus was billing Maxwell’s defense $600 per hour for her time on the case.

To this line of questioning, the witness acknowledged that she had testified in roughly 150 criminal trials, all but one of them on behalf of the defense, and even penned a book titled “Witness for the Defense.” 

“The core memory of trauma is stronger than other types of memory, right,” Pomerantz later asked Loftus, who responded in the affirmative. “People tend to remember the core, or essence, of traumatic events,” the prosecutor asked. Loftus concurred with the assertion. “The more times you’re exposed to something the better your memory,” she said. 

Pomerantz then asked Loftus if any of her decades of research on memory included a study where she arranged for girls to be sexually abused and tracked the reliability of their recollections of those traumatic events. “You’ve never done a study of how well those girls remember sexual abuse years later, right,” Pomerantz asked. “Nothing further, your honor,” she concluded.

Loftus' testimony followed that another defense witness, Cimberly Espinosa, who worked as Maxwell’s executive assistant for six years from 1996 through 2002.

Espinosa, 55, said she never witnessed Maxwell or Epstein ever engage in any inappropriate behavior with underage girls during her six years working for them.

In direct defense testimony on Thursday, she instead offered unsullied and glowing praise for the late sex offender financier. “He was a giver, he was generous, and I always knew him to be donating to charities and just being a kind person,” she said.

Espinosa recalled seeing the trial’s first victim witness, referred to as Jane, around Epstein’s office during her employment as Maxwell’s assistant.

Sketch shows "Jane" testifying under cross-examination on Nov. 30, 2021, that she had repeated sexual contact with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein when she 14 and that Ghislaine Maxwell was there when it happened. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Jane appeared to look 18 years old at the time, Espinosa testified, adding that she told by Jane’s mother that Epstein was Jane’s godfather.

“I thought it was a loving relationship,” she said of impression of Epstein and Jane’s perceived godparent relationship and rapport.

 She testified on Thursday that she was responsible for furnishing Epstein’s Little St James Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including flying in additional sand and palm trees to the island.

Over the years, Epstein gifted her professional massages, a watch and tickets to "The Lion King" on Broadway, as well as paying for personal trainer during her employment, she testified.

Espinosa, who is today an executive assistant for an unnamed CEO in California, said she “highly respected” Maxwell and “very much looked up” to her.

“I feel like Ghislaine was a very good resource for my own career ... as far as how to handle multiple projects at one time at a fast pace,” she testified. “It helped me to get to where I am today with my job.”

Espinosa also testified that she is a "big-time" fan of the unnamed daytime soap opera that Jane has acted on since moving to California, and brought signed glossy photographs of the cast that she said Jane sent her as gifts.

Prosecutor Pomerantz’s cross-examination of Espinosa consisted of three snappily asked questions in less than a minute. “You worked out of Jeffrey Epstein’s Madison Avenue office, correct,” she asked Espinosa, who answered in the affirmative. “You never worked at any of his homes,” Pomerantz quickly followed up. After asking if the former executive assistant ever worked at Epstein’s Palm Beach home, Pomerantz quickly concluded the cross-examination. "No further questions, your honor," she concluded.

Maxwell, 59, faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution rested their case last Friday.

The long-awaited trial, which was initially expected to go for six weeks until mid-January 2022, may now very well wrap up before Maxwell’s 60th birthday, which falls on Christmas Day.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan set a charging conference to take place on Saturday, Dec. 18, with jury deliberations to begin the following Monday.

The jury will sit for only three days each week for the next two weeks due to the Christmas and New Year holidays.

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