Ghislaine Maxwell Trial: Defense's 1st Witness Says She Highly Respected Maxwell

The defense for Ghislaine Maxwell began on Thursday, with its first witness discussing how she had only admiration for her.

Cimberly Espinosa was called as the defense's first witness in the case against Maxwell, who is accused of recruiting four young girls for sex trafficking along with Jeffrey Epstein. Espinosa worked as Maxwell's assistant from 1996 to 2002. She even attributed her current career to the opportunities afforded to her by being Maxwell's assistant.

Among her roles were maintaining "all scheduling and appointments" for Maxwell, as well as organizing "special events and dinner parties, including invitations, menus, and outside contractors." Espinosa was also said at the trial to be the "key contact" for Maxwell during her tenure.

"I highly respected her," said Espinosa while on the stand. "I looked up to her very much."

The former assistant was asked about one of Maxwell's accusers, who is referred to as Jane throughout the trial to protect her identity. When asked about the interactions she witnessed between Epstein and Jane, she testified that Jane's mother said she was Epstein's goddaughter.

"I thought it was a loving relationship," she said.

Maxwell has maintained her innocence against the charges, pleading not guilty for recruiting young girls for sex trafficking and sexual abuse purposes.

Maxwell Dec 10
This courtroom sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell, center, seated in court at the defense table between two US Marshals seated in foreground, watching proceedings in her sex abuse trial in New York on December 10, 2021. AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams

The defense case began after the jury heard four women detail accusations that they were teens when they became victims of a sex-abuse scheme devised by Maxwell and Epstein. The British socialite's attorneys are expected to make their case that Maxwell isn't the one to blame.

The government's case lasted only two weeks and the defense case could last just two days. Both sides streamlined their witness lists without revealing why, making the trial end well short of an original six-week estimate.

The start of the defense case has already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile defendant will take the witness stand in her own defense—a gamble that is almost never taken. Either way, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan will have to receive direct confirmation from Maxwell about her decision before the defense can rest.

Maxwell was once Epstein's girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee. Witnesses testified the pair exploited them between 1994 to 2004 at Epstein's homes, including an estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; and a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch.

The defense has insisted that Maxwell is being made a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes by Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019. 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Maxwell Defense
Laura A. Menninger, left, and Jeffrey S. Pagliuca, right, defense attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell, arrive at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse on December 16, 2021, in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images