Prosecutors defend nightly sleep checks on Ghislaine Maxwell

Federal prosecutors say Ghislaine Maxwell is not under suicide watch, but it's still necessary to flashlight into her cell every 15 minutes as she sleeps while she awaits a sex trafficking trial

May 6, 2021, 2:29 AM
Ghislaine Maxwell, Bobbi C. Sternheim
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, far right, appears in Manhattan Federal court seated next to her attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim, second from left, along with her sister Isabel Maxwell, far left, during her arraignment on a superceding indictment, Friday, April 23, 2021, in New York. Maxwell, a British socialite and one-time girlfriend of Epstein, pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and an additional sex trafficking charge that were added in a rewritten indictment released last month by a Manhattan federal court grand jury. The new indictment stretched the timespan of the charges from three years to a decade. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors say Ghislaine Maxwell is not under suicide watch, but it’s still necessary to flashlight into her cell every 15 minutes as she sleeps while she awaits a sex trafficking trial.

They told a judge Wednesday that heightened security for Maxwell was necessary because of the nature of the charges she faces, the potential stress she faces in a high-profile criminal case and because of a need to ensure her safety in a cell where she is alone.

Maxwell’s lawyers say the light flashing is a response to ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein’s August 2019 suicide as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell, 59, has been held without bail since July on charges alleging she recruited teenage girls from 1994 to 2004 for Epstein to sexually abuse. She has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors based their letter on a consultation with lawyers for the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Maxwell is held, after a judge requested an explanation for the flashing of light at the ceiling of Maxwell's cell every 15 minutes while she sleeps.

Two judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recommended the explanations be sought after recently rejecting an appeal of three rulings rejecting bail for Maxwell.

They also questioned why Maxwell was not allowed to wear a mask that would shield her eyes at night. Her lawyer told the 2nd Circuit that she puts socks or a towel over her eyes to try to sleep.

David Oscar Markus, an attorney who represents Maxwell before the 2nd Circuit, said in an email late Wednesday: "This is positively Orwellian. Prosecutors have parroted a nameless MDC official, who has determined that a detainee, who has not been deemed a suicide risk, must be awoken every 15 minutes for her own ‘well-being.’ What’s next? Bread and water diet to eliminate the risk of diabetes? Please!”

In their letter, prosecutors said Maxwell cannot be issued an eye mask because they are not available for purchase in the jail commissary and are thus considered contraband.

The trial of Maxwell was postponed this week from July until early fall, though no date has yet been set.

Maxwell's lawyers have said a postponement of the trial was necessary after prosecutors in late March added sex trafficking charges to the case. They also cited what they described as onerous jail conditions that slow Maxwell's ability to prepare for trial.

Maxwell was arrested in July on charges that she recruited three teenage girls for Epstein to sexually abuse from 1994 to 1997. A superseding indictment in March added a fourth teenage girl to the allegations and extended the years of the alleged conspiracy to 2004.

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