NYT

‘Frozen in fear’: The accuser known as Jane said she was only 14 when Epstein started abusing her.

People lined up outside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning for the second day of Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial.
People lined up outside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning for the second day of Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

One day in 1994, a 14-year-old girl identified only as Jane was seated with friends at a picnic table at a Michigan summer camp for talented children when a man and a woman walked by, a federal prosecutor told a Manhattan jury on Monday.

The man and woman were Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, the prosecutor, Lara Pomerantz, said. He introduced himself as a donor who gave scholarships to young people at the camp; and after more conversation, the couple and Jane discovered they all lived in Palm Beach, Fla. They asked for Jane’s number.

“What Jane didn’t know then was that this meeting at summer camp was the beginning of a nightmare that would last for years,” Ms. Pomerantz told the jury. “What she didn’t know then was that this man and woman were predators.”

Jane took the witness stand on Tuesday in Federal District Court, the first of four women whom prosecutors have described as underage victims of Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein, and who, now adults, are expected to testify under pseudonyms or partial names in Ms. Maxwell’s trial. Ms. Maxwell has been charged with grooming the four girls to be abused by Mr. Epstein between 1994 and 2004, when they were underage. She has pleaded not guilty.

Testifying on Tuesday, Jane said she was 14 when she met Ms. Maxwell, who came across like a big sister figure — “odd,” Jane said, “but nice.”

But soon, Ms. Maxwell began talking to her about sex, Jane said. She began going to Mr. Epstein’s house on average once every week or two, she said, and soon, she had her first sexual encounter with Mr. Epstein. She said the two were having a conversation about her future. 

After Mr. Epstein told her he could introduce her to talent agents, she said, he led her from his office to the pool house. She said he sat down on a couch, pulled his sweatpants down, and then pulled her on top of him while masturbating.

“I was frozen in fear, I had never seen a penis before,” Jane said. “I was terrified and felt gross and like I felt ashamed.”

In opening statements to the jury on Monday, Ms. Pomerantz portrayed Jane as a child victim of abuse, while Ms. Maxwell’s lawyer, Bobbi C. Sternheim, focused on her as an adult. She described Jane as an actress and singer who had performed in commercials, sitcoms, and movies, and who today is in a soap opera.

“She is a pro at playing roles,” Ms. Sternheim said, asserting that Jane had changed her story in order to obtain millions of dollars in compensation from a fund established for Mr. Epstein’s victims.

By the government’s account, after Jane returned from the camp to her Florida home, Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein befriended her — part of what the government has said was a process of “grooming,” to lower her defenses. They took her to the movies and on shopping trips, and Mr. Epstein regularly gave her hundreds of dollars, knowing her family needed money, Ms. Pomerantz said. 

Mr. Epstein started sexually abusing Jane when she was still 14, Ms. Pomerantz told the jury. The lawyer said that Ms. Maxwell was sometimes in the room during the abuse, including when Mr. Epstein engaged in sex acts with Jane. The abuse went on for years, she said.

But Ms. Sternheim said that when Jane visited Mr. Epstein’s Palm Beach home, they talked about music and the arts. “Nothing amiss happened,” the defense lawyer said. “That’s it.”

Ms. Sternheim said that Jane had not initially wanted to be involved in any criminal case involving Mr. Epstein. But that changed, she said, after Mr. Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, and the medical examiner ruled he hanged himself. Jane then hired a lawyer and decided to assist the government, Ms. Sternheim said, believing it would help her secure a claim with the Epstein victim fund.

“When money was on the line, she changed her mind,” the defense lawyer said.

“She is a consummate actress,” Ms. Sternheim added, “and as her script and characters change, so has her story that you will hear in this courtroom.”

— Benjamin Weiser and Lola Fadulu