Citing the "astronomical" spread of the omicron variant and the potential risk the coronavirus poses to derail proceedings, the judge overseeing the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell wants the jury to deliberate later into the evening and without a holiday interruption.
As the jury began its fourth full day of deliberations Tuesday, Judge Alison Nathan expressed concern about the "high and escalating risk that jurors or trial participants may need to quarantine" if they contract the virus, "putting at risk our ability to complete this trial."
On Monday, Nathan asked jurors to deliberate until 6 p.m. from that day forward. She offered to take back the request if any jurors found the extra hour to be a hardship, but said on Tuesday that none have so far.
"We are seeing an astronomical spike in the number of COVID-positive cases in New York City," Nathan said. "We are very simply at a different place regarding the pandemic than we were only one week ago."
In addition to the extra daily hour, the judge said she would ask jurors to deliberate without a break over the New Year's holiday on Thursday and Friday.
"In light of the variant, my concern about the interruption of the trial, given the increasing daily risk of exposure to either a juror or trial participant requiring quarantine -- it is time to think about having the jury make plans to deliberate until a verdict is reached," Nathan said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Maxwell's attorneys asked the judge to clarify her response to the jury's question late Monday regarding Maxwell's alleged involvement in the transportation of one of her accusers, known as "Jane," for which Maxwell is facing a count of Transportation of an Individual Under the Age of 17 with Intent to Engage in Illegal Sexual Activity.
"Under count four, if the defendant aided in the transportation of Jane's return flight, but not the flight to New Mexico, where/if the intent was for Jane to engage in sexual activity, can she be found guilty under the second element?" the jury asked.
The charge is a violation of New York state law, and the defense -- concerned that the jury could convict Maxwell based on something that happened in New Mexico -- sent a letter to the judge asking for "additional instructions to correct apparent errors in the jury's understanding" of the charge. Judge Nathan had referred the jury to her instructions, but the defense argued that was insufficient.
"They are looking at the instructions that they have been given thus far … and they are unclear," defense attorney Christian Everdell said. "They are confused by those instructions."
Prosecutors opposed the defense's request for additional clarification.
"It was a correct legal instruction when the court referred the jury to it yesterday afternoon," prosecutor Alison Moe said. "No relief is appropriate here."
The judge agreed with the government and declined to tell the jury anything more.
"The proposal made by the defense is wrong," Nathan said. "I continue to not know how to parse the jury's question."
Maxwell is the longtime associate of serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced millionaire who died by suicide in jail in 2019. She is facing charges related to the alleged abuse and trafficking of underage girls between 1994 and 2004, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.