Ghislaine Maxwell's defence kicked off its case in the British socialite's sex abuse trial on Thursday, calling a former assistant to the late financier Jeffrey Epstein as its first witness.
Since the trial began on November 29, the jury has heard evidence from four women who said Maxwell groomed them between 1994 and 2004 for abuse by Epstein.
Epstein died by suicide in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Cimberly Espinosa said that she was hired as a legal assistant to Epstein's company in 1996. She said she then changed roles to work as Ms Maxwell's executive assistant from November of 1996 until 2002.
“We were together just about every day,” she said.
Under questioning by Ms Maxwell's lawyer Christian Everdell, Ms Espinosa said that she worked with several other women who were receptionists or executive assistants to Epstein and Ms Maxwell.
Ms Espinosa said Ms Maxwell was a demanding boss but that she learnt a lot from her.
“I highly respected Ghislaine,” Ms Espinosa said. “I looked up to her very much.”
Ms Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to charges she acted as Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse during sexual massages.
Ms Maxwell was once Epstein’s girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee.
Witnesses gave evidence saying that the pair exploited them between 1994 and 2004 at Epstein’s luxury homes, including an estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his Manhattan town house and a ranch in New Mexico.
Defence lawyers have argued that Ms Maxwell is a “convenient stand in” for Epstein.
The start of the defence case already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile accused will take the witness box in her own defence — a gamble that is almost never taken.
Either way, US District Judge Alison Nathan will have to receive direct confirmation from Ms Maxwell about her decision before the defence can rest.
She was once Epstein’s girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee.
The defence has insisted that Ms Maxwell is being made a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes by Epstein. Her lawyers have sought to show that the accusers exaggerated her involvement at the behest of lawyers seeking payouts for the women from civil claims against the Epstein estate.