NEW YORK — “It took me a long time to come forward,” Chauntae Davies, who was recruited to be a masseuse for Jeffrey Epstein, said in court Tuesday. “Every public humiliation that I endured, I have suffered, and he has won.”
Davies was one of 15 women who spoke in court Tuesday, 10 whom identified themselves by name, others who were referred to only as “Jane Doe.” The women would have preferred a trial. But because Epstein, a politically connected multimillionaire, killed himself in federal custody this month, authorities said, they got only this: a roughly three-hour hearing, at which a judge weighed prosecutors’ request to drop the sex-trafficking charges brought against the registered sex offender.
For the victims, there will be no final face-to-face confrontation with the man they say abused them. For Epstein, there will be no weighing of the evidence by his peers. Instead, those who say Epstein abused them shared their stories with each other and the world, and their frustration that the case had come to this.
One said she was still struggling to call herself a victim. Another said she felt re-traumatized by Epstein’s suicide. A third read a letter she wrote to Epstein, which began “Dear Jeffrey” and spoke of how he had an “illness.” Others had their attorneys’ read statements.
Davis graphically described being raped by Epstein over a period of several years, and how in his death she felt a sense of loss. But she later said she refused to let that sentiment linger.
Jennifer Araoz, through tears, spoke of how she would never see Epstein put on trial.
“The fact that I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at my soul,” Araoz said. “Even in death Jeffrey Epstein is trying to hurt me.”
Courtney Wild, who alleges Epstein sexually abused her when she was 14 years old, told the courtroom that the financier’s death in federal custody had “robbed myself and all of the other victims” of a chance to confront him in court.
More than one woman implored prosecutors to continue pursuing those who aided Epstein, identifying by name associate Ghislaine Maxwell, who has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
“The reckoning must not end, it must continue,” said Virginia Roberts Giuffre. “He did not act alone. We the victims know that.”
Added Sarah Ransome, another alleged victim:
The case will almost certainly end with the charges against Epstein being dropped — though U.S. District Judge Richard Berman did not say so conclusively Tuesday. He could have issued a simple written order to avoid the hearing entirely, but instead asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to appear in court Tuesday, and said that they and those who say Epstein abused them can “be heard, if they wish to be.” He said the news of Epstein’s death was “certainly shocking,” as everyone was expecting proceedings “through which the accusers and the accused would come face to face, allowing everyone to get their day in court.”
“It is a rather stunning turn of events,” Berman said.
Prosecutors had arrested Epstein, 66, in July and charged him with sex trafficking, subjecting him to a possible trial and 45-year sentence if he were convicted. He had pleaded not guilty. Berman had ordered that he be jailed pending trial, although Epstein was appealing that decision. Then, on the morning of Aug. 10, staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan found Epstein hanging in his cell. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Authorities called the incident an “apparent suicide” and launched multiple investigations — including by the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general — into what had happened. There appear to have been several significant lapses at the jail where Epstein was being held, and Reid H. Weingarten, one of Epstein’s attorneys, asked Berman on Tuesday to conduct an independent inquiry into Epstein’s death. Prosecutors said that was not the point of Tuesday’s hearing.
Weingarten said Epstein’s defense team was “skeptical of the certitude of the medical examiner’s conclusion that this was suicide” and was frustrated to receive most information about the case from reporters.
“We ask your honor … to find out what happened to our client. We’re angry about the conditions he was held in,” Weingarten said. “We don’t know what happened. We deeply want to know what happened to our client.”
Weingarten pointed in particular to what he called “the dysfunction of the critical video” inside the jail where Epstein was being held.
At least one camera in the hallway outside the cell where Epstein was found had footage that was unusable, although other clearer footage was captured in the area, according to three people briefed on the evidence gathered this month.
Epstein had been put on suicide watch after a July 23 incident in which he was found in his cell with marks on his neck. After he was removed from suicide watch about a week later, he should have had a cell mate. But that person was transferred out the day before Epstein was found, and no one was assigned to replace him — despite the fact that at least eight jail officials knew Epstein was not to be left alone in cell.
Officers also should have been checking on Epstein every 30 minutes but had not done so for several hours before he was found, officials have said. The two officers assigned to the special housing unit where Epstein was being held were both on overtime — one forced, the other voluntary, officials have said. One did not normally work as a correctional officer but had in the past and was able to do so, officials have said.
Epstein’s case attracted so much attention in part because in 2008, he reached a deal with federal prosecutors to resolve similar allegations of abuse and spent 13 months in jail — with work-release privileges. The arrangement was widely criticized as overly lenient and ultimately prompted the resignation of President Trump’s labor secretary, Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in Miami when the deal was approved.
Federal prosecutors in New York have said they are still investigating those who might have conspired with Epstein, and it is possible other charges could be brought. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey told the court Tuesday that charges against potential co-conspirators and civil forfeiture of Epstein’s assets are still possible, and that the government’s investigation will continue.