What to Know
- A number of women who accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual assault speak at a hearing as prosecutors seek to dismiss charges against him
- U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he would give prosecutors, Epstein lawyers and any victims a chance to speak on Tuesday
- Epstein had pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges before he died by suicide on Aug. 10
Nearly two dozen women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein poured out their anger Tuesday, lashing out at him as a coward and a manipulator, after a judge gave them the day in court they were denied when the financier killed himself this month in his Manhattan prison cell while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
"Jeffrey Epstein robbed myself and all the other victims of our day in court to confront him one by one, and for that he is a coward," said Courtney Wild, who said she was sexually abused by Epstein at his Florida home for years starting when she was 14. Wild added that she is "angry and sad that justice has never been served in this case."
The hearing was convened by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who presided over the case after federal prosecutors had Epstein arrested last month.
The question before the judge was whether to throw out the indictment because of the defendant's death, a usually pro forma step undertaken without a hearing. But the judge offered Epstein's accusers an extraordinary opportunity to speak in court.
In total, the testimonies of 23 women were heard in court. Some were speaking publicly on the accusations for the first time. Twelve chose to be identified as Jane Does to remain anonymous.
They vented their fury over Epstein's alleged crimes and his suicide in his jail cell Aug. 10 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges involving dozens of teenage girls. Repeatedly, the women described themselves as survivors and said they hoped coming forward would help others.
"I was a victim, but I will not remain a victim and be silent for one more day," said actress Anouska De Georgiou, who said she was sexually abused by Epstein as a teenager. "Although I think it's tragic when anybody dies before their time, I'm extremely relieved that Jeffrey Epstein will not be in a position to hurt any more children or any more women."
An accuser identified as Jane Doe 1 said she is still learning about the ways Epstein has affected her life and that she still has conflicting emotions.
"As destructive as that relationship was, and as much of a villain as we've created him to be, based on facts, we've created him to be a villain, but he's a complex villain," she said.
"It didn't feel good to wake up that morning and hear he allegedly committed suicide," she went on to say.
When speaking to the press after the hearing, Jane Doe 1 said she thinks that the entire Epstein case may be the "catalyst to change things."
During the 2½-hour proceeding, the women sometimes clutched one another to lend support. Most remained composed, but several cried as they described falling into Epstein's web.
Some women described their shame and embarrassment, saying Epstein manipulated them, dangling his wealth and power and connection to celebrities and political figures, while seizing on their vulnerabilities.
An accuser identified as Jane Doe 2 said the financier took advantage of her and other young victims, some of whom came from difficult backgrounds or were going through difficult times in their lives.
"A lot of us were in very vulnerable situations and in extreme poverty," she said.
Jane Doe 2 said that it was hard to describe what she went through and that Epstein "was very strategic in how he approached us."
"I had so much self-hatred and doubt and so much guilt for everything," she said.
Epstein, a 66-year-old convicted felon, was arrested on sex trafficking charges July 6 at a New Jersey airport as he returned to the U.S. from Paris.
A New York City coroner formally classified Epstein's Aug. 10 death as a suicide. Berman described Epstein's death as "shocking" as he opened the hearing Tuesday.
"It's a rather stunning turn of events," Berman said.
As the accusers spoke, one by one, they expressed a number of emotions, including anger, a need for justice and a wish for healing.
Jane Doe 3, who said she met Epstein 15 years ago when she moved to New York City from a small town to pursue a modeling career, recounted 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 that the events made her stop modeling.
"I am sickened and saddened and God, I'm angry that he's not alive anymore to face" the consequences, she said.
An accuser identified as Jane Doe 4 said that she and other accusers "will never heal from what happened to us" — a feeling also expressed by an accuser identified as Jane Doe 5, who said in a tearful and emotionally charged testimony that she had extensive treatment because of the trauma.
Another accuser said Epstein's "death robbed me of that justice." Another, Jennifer Araoz, who has accused Epstein of raping her in his New York City mansion when she was 15, said that she felt let down by the very people who were supposed to watch over him in prison.
"The fact I will never have a chance to speak about my predator in court eats away at my soul," Araoz said — a sentiment shared by an accuser identified as Jane Doe 11, who said Epstein's "ghost is still laughing at us."
Accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre commended the prosecutors for their "ongoing pursuit of justice."
"The reckoning must not end. It must continue," she said.
Sarah Ransome, who said Epstein pressured her into sex when she was in her early 20s, pleaded with prosecutors to go after those who helped the financier in his pursuit of victims.
"Please, please finish what you started," she said.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents a number of the accusers, thanked the court for allowing them to be heard.
"I am encouraged by the fact that this court in essentially an unprecedented situation is still affording the victims to be heard in this case," she said.
Usually when a defendant in an active case dies, prosecutors file a nolle prosequi, or a notice that they are ending the case because of a death. The judge then rubber-stamps the filing and it ends. But Berman had other plans and called Tuesday's hearing to give himself a chance to ask questions of prosecutors and attorneys for Epstein as well as to allow Epstein's accusers their day in court.
"I believe it is the court's responsibility and in its purview that the victims in the case are dealt with with dignity and with humanity," Berman said.
Maureen Comey, the federal prosecutor handling Epstein's case for the Southern District of New York, said that the motion for dismissal does not stop the government from continuing its investigation or "prohibit the government from seeking civil forfeiture."
"Today's dismissal in no way inhibits or prohibits the government's ongoing investigation," Comey said, adding that "the investigation into those matters has been ongoing, is ongoing and will continue."
Prosecutors said that Epstein's defense have returned all discovery shared with them by federal prosecutors and are deleting all copies.
Comey said emphatically that prosecutors have done everything they could do to be in touch with victims and that they will work with the FBI to extend counseling and services to victims even after the dismissal.
Epstein attorney Reid Weingarten spoke for the defense.
"Your honor, I think it is the understatement of the year that the world looks and feels differently then the last time we were here," he said.
Since the hearing was scheduled, it was revealed that Epstein signed a will just two days before his suicide, putting over $577 million in assets into a trust fund. The will, filed in the Virgin Islands where Epstein maintained a residence, was expected to make it more difficult for dozens of accusers to collect damages.
Epstein was accused of sexually abusing women in the early 2000s and mansions in Manhattan and Florida. He had pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges and was being held without bail in New York.
Since his death, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has vowed that anyone suspected of aiding Epstein in sex trafficking will be pursued in a continuing investigation.
Among those under scrutiny: Epstein's girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of recruiting young women for his sexual pleasure and taking part in the abuse. She has denied wrongdoing.
In response to Epstein's jail cell suicide, Barr removed the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons from his position, placed two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein the morning he died on administrative leave and temporarily reassigned the warden to the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
The attorney general has said officials had uncovered "serious irregularities" and was angry that staff members at the federal lockup had failed to "adequately secure this prisoner."
Epstein's lawyers had contended he could not be prosecuted because he signed a non-prosecution deal with federal authorities over a decade ago in Florida that resulted in a 13-month stint in jail on state prostitution-related charges. Federal prosecutors in New York said that deal did not prevent the new charges.
One of Epstein's lawyers, Martin Weinberg, challenged the coroner's finding during Tuesday's hearing, saying "we are told by a very experienced forensic pathologist" that broken bones in his neck were more consistent with strangulation than with suicide.
"Find out what happened to our client," the lawyer told the judge.
When a prosecutor said the manner of Epstein's death was "completely irrelevant to the purpose of today's proceeding," the judge responded: "Well, I don't know ... I think it's fair game for defense counsel to raise its concerns."
Weinberg went on to say that the timing of Epstein's death "strikes us as implausible."
"We are told by a very experienced pathologist that the broken bones in Epstein's neck are more consistent with strangulation," he went on to say.
Weinberg contended the defense was not raising doubts about the suicide but, rather, wants to know what happened.
Epstein spent a few days under suicide watch but then was transferred back to a cell in a Special Housing Unit where he had a cellmate. Eventually, though, the cellmate was taken out and he was left alone.
The suicide happened despite a warning in late July when Epstein was found on the floor of his cell with bruises to his neck. After Epstein died, Berman asked the jail's warden for answers about that episode, saying it had never been "definitively explained."
Before court adjourned for the day, Berman thanked all those who spoke at the hearing, saying he believes everyone has benefited from hearing their testimonies.