Anger and sadness filled a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, as the sex-trafficking indictment against Jeffrey Epstein was dismissed and his victims were given a chance to speak about what they endured.
Three of Epstein’s lawyers were gathered at a defense table, but their client, who killed himself in a jail cell on Aug. 10, was represented by an empty chair.
The proceedings were a formality. With no defendant, there would be no trial, and prosecutors filed paperwork last week to dispense with charges that many hoped would bring them long-sought justice.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, however, made sure that even if Epstein would not have his day in court, the women would have theirs. It was, he said, a matter of respect.
The first of more than a dozen accusers to speak up was Courtney Wild, who says she was 14 years old and still wearing braces when she was recruited outside a high school to give the pedophile erotic 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.”
Brad Edwards, her lawyer, said in court that Wild came to his office in 2008 not seeking a lawsuit against Epstein, but “just asking to be heard” by the FBI. (Wild sued the U.S. government over Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement in Florida.)
A woman who was identified as Jane Doe 1 said Epstein’s death retraumatized her. “It didn’t feel good to wake up that morning and find that he allegedly committed suicide,” she said.
A woman only identified as Jane Doe 2 spoke about how Epstein preyed on those he could easily manipulate.
“A lot of us were in very vulnerable situations and in extreme poverty," she said. “I had so much self-hatred and doubt and so much guilt for everything.”
Epstein was arrested in July after a flight from France to New Jersey. Held without bail, he was found dead in his cell weeks later. A medical examiner concluded he hung himself.
His attorneys have raised doubts about that, and did so again in court on Tuesday, claiming they have undisclosed evidence that suggest his death was not a suicide.
They claimed he was not despondent and was waiting for his team to file a motion to dismiss the charges.
“This wasn't a futile, defeatist attitude,” Marty Weinberg said.
Defense lawyer Reid Weingarten claimed that tapes from security cameras near Epstein’s cell were “corrupted or not functioning.”
“We want the court to help us find out what happened,” Weingarten said.
The Department of Justice’s Inspector General has already launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, including allegedly fabricated logs and sleeping guards.
The first victim’s lawyer to speak at the hearing was Brad Edwards, who’s battled Epstein in court for years and has represented the financier’s victims for more than a decade.
In 2008, Edwards represented Jane Does 1 and 2 in a lawsuit against the government for violations of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, for keeping Epstein’s Florida plea deal secret from the dozens of victims in Palm Beach. “They were treated as if they didn’t matter,” Edwards said of the Florida case, before thanking New York authorities for letting the women “be part of the process” this time.
The stories the victims shared were strikingly similar: Epstein preyed on young girls with dreams; dreams of becoming models or actresses and of pursuing higher education. Many of them came from poorer backgrounds. Some had lost parents.
Several of the women said they were recruited by Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend and alleged madam, and mentioned alleged co-conspirator Sarah Kellen, believed to be a key member of Epstein’s trafficking ring but who wasn’t charged as part of his criminal case in Florida.
David Boies, an attorney for multiple victims of the financier, said his firm plans to file more lawsuits against Epstein’s estate. (As The Daily Beast reported, five women have now sued the estate and its representatives.) “Mr. Epstein did not act alone,” Boies said, echoing the sentiment among victims that others in Epstein’s circle should be held criminally liable.
His client, Sarah Ransome, thanked federal prosecutors in New York but told the courtroom, “Please, please, finish what you started.” She added, “We all know he did not act alone.”
Virginia Roberts Giuffre—who for years has claimed Epstein kept her as his “sex slave, and was one of the first accusers to come forward publicly—said she was recruited by Maxwell at President Trump’s Mar-A-Lago before she turned 17.
“Epstein had help,” Giuffre said, adding that she “hopes the government is listening.”
Jane Doe 3, who told the court she first met Epstein 15 years ago after moving to New York City to pursue modeling, also shared her experience with Epstein.
"I left his home, basically after he put money on the table. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, it was not the way I grew up," she said, adding she left New York five months later.
Another woman, identified as Jane Doe 4, told the court she “met Jeffrey Epstein at a very vulnerable place” in her life and that the damage he caused to her and other victims was “irreparable.”
Meanwhile, Jane Doe 5 read aloud a letter she wrote to Epstein, detailing his alleged “illness” and calling out the former financier for “violating" her rights.
“You should have to pay for what you did like everyone else,” she said through tears.
Chauntae Davies, an actress, said Maxwell and Epstein “made me feel I was a part of their family,” something she was desperately seeking as a young girl.
Davies detailed being on Epstein’s private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, when Kellen knocked on her door one night and announcing that “Jeffrey Epstein was ready for his massage.” When Davies visited his massage room, Epstein raped her.
“Please don’t rob us of justice again,” she told the court.
Actress Anouska De Georgious also spoke on Tuesday, telling the court she decided to testify out of solidarity and support for the accused other victims. De Georgious alleged Epstein manipulated, coerced, and sexually assaulted her.
“I am every girl he did this to, and they are all me” she said. “Today we stand together.
Several of the women turned to their lawyers to speak on their behalf, terrified of possible retaliation. One of Epstein’s victims, Michelle Licata, submitted a letter that was ready by her attorney, Brittany Henderson.
In her statement, Licata said over a decade ago, she was told “Jeffrey Epstein was going to be held accountable, but he was not.”
“The case ended without me knowing what was going on...I was treated like I did not matter,” she said, adding that she commended New York prosecutors for their transparency and determination to convict Epstein.
Another accused victim testified she was 17 when she was brought from California to New York for Epstein. She said she “normaliz[ed] all of the red flags” during her experience with Epstein, which she called a “dark corner” of her past.
“I am coming forward to bring light to the darkness,” she said.
Accuser Jennifer Araoz, the first to file a lawsuit against Epstein’s estate alleging she was sexually assaulted by the financier starting at the age of 14, spoke through tears as she told the court she felt let down by the people responsible for watching him in prison.
“The fact he felt entitled to take away my innocence ... hurts me so much,” she said. “The fact I will never have a chance to speak about my predator in court eats away at my soul.”
Three of Epstein’s accusers represented by lawyer Lisa Bloom were not in court on Tuesday, and submitted statement’s which were read aloud in court detailing their life-long trauma from their alleged sexual abuse.
One of the accusers said that while Epstein’s suicide “denied everyone justice,” she is relieved “he will not be able to hurt anyone else.” Another said in her statement Epstein stole her innocence and gave her a life sentence of “guilt and shame” and called on the government to ensure such abuse never “happen to other young women.”
Annie Farmer read a statement on behalf of her sister, Maria Farmer, who came forward earlier this year and said Epstein and Maxwell sexually assaulted her. “They stole her dreams and they stole her livelihood,” Annie said of Maria, who was an artist in New York City when she met them. (In a recent interview with The New York Times, Annie says she was also assaulted by the duo during a visit to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch.)
The Farmer sisters are the first known victims of Epstein’s, and in the late 1990s, Maria tried to report him to New York police and the FBI.
Teela Davies said she met Epstein when she was 17, and that she’s fearful for her own daughters. “He thought he was untouchable,” she told the court, adding, “Here I stand becoming more powerful than he will ever be.”
“All I am going to say is that today is a day of power, of strength,” Davies said outside court Tuesday.
Jane Doe 9 said she was 15 years old when she met Epstein in 2004. She described how Epstein flew her to his Zorro Ranch in New Mexico and sexually abused her for hours. Afterward, he forced her to detail how great her first sexual experience felt.
One day, she said, she was racing ATVs with another girl on the mesa. She crashed her vehicle and worried about getting in trouble with Epstein.
“Don’t worry. No one gets in trouble for anything here,” he allegedly told her.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents three alleged victims, spoke on behalf of one of her clients who said she was underaged when she was recruited for Epstein in her small Texas town. In her statement, the woman only identified as Jane Doe 10, said after four visits with Epstein she was forced to give him oral sex.
“Epstein is a coward,” the woman said in her statement, adding the abuse spurred a deep depression that made her want to take her own life. “Like a leech, once he had his fill he found another victim.”
Outside the courthouse flanked by two alleged victims, Allred said all of her clients are planning to file lawsuits against Epstein’s estate seeking damages. One of the women standing beside her, who did not publicly speak in court, was holding her five-month old daughter wearing a onesie that said, “Strong like mommy.”
Jane Doe 11 said she was a 16-year-old virgin when Epstein raped her. She said that she’s “haunted forever” by learning about sex through a “vile criminal.”
After he took her virginity, he compulsively washed her body in the shower, she said. “If you’re not a virgin, I’ll kill you,” Epstein allegedly warned.
If she missed “massage” appointments with him, he’d call and threaten her, saying, “I’ll bury you.” Jane Doe said Epstein bragged to his assistants—as though she wasn’t even in the room—about her skill with sexual activities. “I became a hollow shell,” she said.
When she was with him, he’d call his famous friends and put them on speaker phone. “He knew people I looked up to and revered,” she said. Epstein offered to write her a letter of recommendation to get into Harvard, which she believed was gold because he was plying the university with money for scientific research.
Marijke Chartouni said she met Epstein through a friend, who was an amazing artist. They took the train together to Epstein's Manhattan mansion, where Epstein assaulted her. She described how Epstein would take girls to Chanel for 15-minute shopping sprees, and that he claimed ties to the fashion world. "I decided to come forward to be a voice of the victims who cannot," Chartouni said.
A model from abroad, Jane Doe 12 was roped into Epstein’s world after a booker told her Epstein could get her shoots for Victoria’s Secret.
“I had my portfolio and photos but he didn’t even look at them,” the woman said.
During their first meeting, Jane Doe was guided to Epstein’s massage table but fled after picking up a vibrator and throwing it at him.
As she left his residence, an assistant allegedly warned that Epstein knew powerful people, including former president Bill Clinton.