Ghislaine Maxwell trial: ‘False memories’ expert testifies in socialite’s defence

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Ghislaine Maxwell speaks with Bobbi Sternheim as defense witness Cimberly Espinosa is questioned at the trial on Thursday  (REUTERS)
Ghislaine Maxwell speaks with Bobbi Sternheim as defense witness Cimberly Espinosa is questioned at the trial on Thursday (REUTERS)

A psychologist who studies “false memories” has been called to testify at Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial in an effort to undermine the credibility of her accusers.

Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the University of California, has previously testified in or consulted for hundreds of trials, including those of Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson.

She was third witness to be called by Maxwell’s lawyers as the British socialite began her defence on Thursday.

Maxwell, 59, is accused of recruiting and grooming teenagers for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. She has pleaded not guilty.

Her lawyers have argued that the memories of the four accusers who testified as prosecution witnesses have become corrupted over the years.

“I am here as a professor and a scientist who studies human memory to talk about the nature of memory, the workings of memory, how people can develop memories of things that didn’t happen or remember things differently from the way they actually were,” Prof Loftus said.

“When you have post-event suggestion or intervention, people get very confident about their wrong answers,” she said. “False memories ... can be very vivid, detailed. People can be confident about them, people can be emotional about them, even though they’re false.”

The prosecution rested its case last Friday, following two weeks of emotional testimony from four women who said Maxwell set them up for abuse by Epstein when the women were teenagers.

Earlier, the defence’s first witness, a former office worker for Jeffrey Epstein, testified that she worked on a daily basis with Maxwell for six years and had only admiration for her.

Cimberly Espinosa told the jury she was Maxwell’s assistant at Epstein’s New York City office on Madison Avenue from 1996 to 2002. Maxwell was managing the financier’s multiple high-end properties at the time, she said, calling it a "huge job".

"I highly respected her," Ms Espinosa said in federal court in Manhattan. "I looked up to her very much."

The prosecution’s case lasted only two weeks and the defence 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 defence case has already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile defendant will take the witness stand 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 Maxwell about her decision before the defence can rest.

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