NEW YORK, NY - Three and half rows of women filled the left-hand side of the courtroom as assistant US attorney Maurene Comey motioned to dismiss the indictment against the now-deceased wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with the sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy.
More than 20 of the women said they were victims of Epstein. One by one, 16 of them took the stand to recount what the convicted sex offender did to them, and how it has affected the rest of their lives. Lawyers read from an additional seven victims' statements, and some of the victims just sat and observed.
There were at least 30 more accusers who did not come to the courthouse in the Southern District of New York.
"I've suffered and he has won," Chauntae Davies, who says Epstein raped her after she was recruited to be his masseuse, said in between cries. "We have all suffered, and he is still winning in death. Please don't rob us of justice again."
Two hours of emotional testimony followed a logistical back-and-forth between District Judge Richard Berman, Comey, and Epstein's legal representation. Berman lamented the loss of a judicial process in the case against Epstein, who died by apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan after being refused bail. His death came two days after signing a new will.
Berman also sharply criticized an article published by the New York Law Journal the night before, which he said he understood was written in part by, though not credited to, somone who had served as Epstein's legal counsel previously.
Later, a lawyer for several of Epstein's accusers, David Boies, identified that person as lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who represented Epstein in Palm Beach, Florida, when he signed a non-prosecution plea deal ruled to have violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act.
One of Epstein's most vocal accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who settled a defamation suit against his accused recruiter and ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, testified in court on Tuesday. She has also accused Dershowitz of raping her.
The article published by the New York Law Journal argues that Epstein's victims should not have been given a speaking role in the hearing to discuss the dismissal of the indictment against the deceased financier. Berman denounced the reasoning, stating that the hearing and the opportunity for victims' testimonies were "being done both as a matter of law and as a measure of respect for the victims."
Dershowitz told Business Insider that he had "absolutely" no involvement in the authorship or editorial oversight of the article and that he has "always favored victims speaking out."
Before the accusers were given the opportunity to stand and testify, Comey emphasized that the investigation into Epstein's co-conspirators was not over, echoing statements from the Department of Justice since Epstein's death that urged more victims to come forward. She noted that civil forfeiture was ongoing.
One of Epstein's lawyers, Martin Weinberg, brought up the circumstances surrounding his client's death and suggested that the broken neck bones he sustained during what was ruled a suicide were actually more consistent with a homicide, and suggested that Epstein was not suicidal at the time of his death. He asked for Berman to investigate Epstein's death in court, as well as the poor conditions and mismanagement that has been reported on at the federally controlled MCC.
Comey disagreed that such a process would be possible, arguing that "no case, and no investigation" into any crimes meant that the independent investigations being conducted by the SDNY, the FBI, and the Office of the Inspector General in the DOJ would be sufficient. Berman then motioned for accusers' lawyers to introduce their clients, and more than 10 women rose to begin the process of recounting their testimonies.
Both Comey and Berman repeatedly referred to the women who spoke on Tuesday as "victims," referencing the Crime Victims' Rights Act. Epstein's lawyers referred to them as victims and alleged victims, given that some of the women in court, including Courtney Wild, accused Epstein in Palm Beach, before he was convicted of two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor.
Read more: All the tech moguls who have been connected to Jeffrey Epstein, the elite wealth manager who died in jail while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges
Wild was the first of Epstein's victims to speak in court, and she said what many of the women after her would reiterate: that she was abused by the financier for years, that he was a coward, and that she was robbed of the opportunity to confront him during judicial proceedings.
"I am still learning the ways he affected me as a victim," one Jane Doe accuser said. "I am not entertainment. The fundamental problem here is exploitation, and it's more common than you realize."
Many of the women expressed that they were very vulnerable at the time they met Epstein, and he enticed them with offerings that ranged from a Victoria's Secret catalog appearance to a letter of recommendation for Harvard. Another anonymous Jane Doe accuser, of which there were 12, said being groomed and assaulted by Epstein felt like being a lobster dropped in a pot: you don't realize you're boiling to death until it's too late.
"This is not about how he died," Guiffre said, seemingly in response to Epstein's lawyers questioning whether his death was a suicide. "This is about how he lived."
Guiffre name-dropped Maxwell, along with several other women, and another co-conspirator accused directly during the testimonies was Sarah Kellen, one of Epstein's employees. Several testimonies revolved around the idea that Epstein was able to commit crimes of such severity because of his immense wealth and the power it granted him, thanks to his cohort of celebrities, scientists, and politicians.
High-profile women's rights attorney Gloria Allred read several testimonies from her clients out loud, including one who met Epstein when she was 16, and said he would call Academy Award-winning actresses and supermodels on speakerphone in front of her to show off his status. They would always pick up.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Another Jane Doe represented by Allred said she was flown to Epstein's ranch in New Mexcio, once the largest home property in the state, when she was 15-years-old. She said Epstein molested her for hours, after which he forced her to tell him how beneficial her first sexual experience had been for her.
That Jane Doe said there had been other girls at the ranch in New Mexico, and the night after she was first molested by Epstein, she rode ATVs with another girl on the property. She crashed it, and was afraid of the consequences.
"I'll never forget what she said to me," the Jane Doe told the crowd assembled in the courtroom on Tuesday. "She said, 'Don't worry. No one gets in trouble for anything here.'"
Accuser Jennifer Araoz, who recently filed a lawsuit against Epstein's estate, Maxwell, and three of Epstein's female employees, recounted that she had been sexually abused between the ages of 14 and 15 at Epstein's Manhattan townhouse, including a forcible rape in 2002. She and her lawyer approached the stand together, and the latter expressed the awe, admiration, and respect the pair had for all the other women in the room.
It took Araoz 18 years to "find her voice," her lawyer said, and knowing Epstein had abused dozens of other women motivated her to finally tell her story.
"You cannot even imagine how this affected me throughout my childhood all the way through my adult life," Araoz said, through tears. "I could no longer keep silent after hearing from other victims. He stole my childhood. But he will never, ever, ever steal our voice."