The judge in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial wants jurors to work more days and longer hours because of a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in New York.
Judge Alison Nathan said a positive COVID-19 case among jurors would endanger “our ability to complete this trial” and asked them to work every day to avert the risk of a mistrial.
The trial had been scheduled to break on Thursday and Friday ahead of New Year’s Eve, but the judge said that “given the Omicron variant, I must require deliberations every day going forward until they reach a verdict”.
Judge Nathan cited an “astronomical spike” in the number of cases in New York.
“We now face a high and escalating risk that jurors and trial participants may need to quarantine,” she told lawyers out of the presence of the jury.
“We are simply in a different place regarding the pandemic than we were a week ago.”
Maxwell, 60, is accused of recruiting and grooming four teenage girls to have sexual encounters with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein between 1994 and 2004.
She denies wrongdoing.
The jury has been deliberating since the afternoon of 20 December, but has so far been unable to reach a verdict.
The jurors were asked to work an extra hour on Tuesday, but they left at the usual time, saying in a note to the judge: “Our deliberations are moving along and we are making progress.”
During deliberations over the past days, they asked for a white board and different coloured sticky notes, as well as more transcripts of evidence and of a witness’s testimony.
They also asked for a definition of the word “enticement”, which is part of the charges.
What happens if a juror gets COVID?
Judge Nathan has not had to replace any of the 12 jurors so far.
If one juror were unable to continue serving, an alternate juror would be seated, and the jury would have to begin
deliberations from scratch.
Five alternate jurors sat through the three-week trial, but have not been present for deliberations.
What are the charges?
Maxwell faces a total of eight charges – including six counts of enticing minors and sex trafficking over a 10-year period.
The charges involve four alleged underage victims and multiple locations between 1994 and 2004. The youngest alleged victim was 14 years old at the time.
Maxwell also faces two counts of perjury which will be tried separately.
She denies all the charges and has pleaded not guilty.
Maxwell could be sentenced to 80 years in prison if found guilty of all counts.
Epstein killed himself in his prison cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
What does Maxwell say?
She has pleaded not guilty to all the six counts she is charged with.
Her lawyers have argued that prosecutors are scapegoating her because Epstein is dead, and say that the accusers’ memories cannot be relied upon.
Included among the six charges is a sex trafficking count that carries a potential penalty of up to 40 years in prison.