NEW YORK (AP) — One by one, 16 of Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers stood before a judge and poured out their anger toward the financier Tuesday, taking advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to be heard in court after his jailhouse suicide denied them the chance to testify against him at his sex-trafficking trial.
“He robbed me of my dreams, of my chance to pursue a career I adored,” said Jennifer Araoz, who has accused Epstein of raping her in his New York mansion when she was a 15-year-old aspiring actress.
“The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at me,” she added. “They let this man kill himself and kill the chance for justice for so many others.”
The hearing was convened by U.S. District Judge Richard 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 their day in court.
Repeatedly, the women described themselves as survivors and said they hoped coming forward publicly would encourage other women to heal. They lashed out at Epstein for his alleged crimes and his suicide in his cell Aug. 10.
“He is a coward,” said Courtney Wild, who has said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Florida at 14. “Justice has never been served in this case.”
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has said she was a 15-year-old working at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club when she was recruited to perform sex acts on Epstein, said: “My hopes were quickly dashed and my dreams were stolen.”
Sarah Ransome, who said Epstein pressured her into unwanted sex when she was in her early 20s, encouraged prosecutors in their efforts to bring others to justice, saying: “Finish what you started. … We are survivors and the pursuit of justice should not abate.”
In opening the session, the judge called the 66-year-old Epstein’s suicide a “rather stunning turn of events.” He defended his decision to let the women speak, saying: “Public hearings … promote transparency and provide the court with insights and information that the court might otherwise not be aware of.”
In addition to the women who spoke, statements from over a dozen others were read in court by their lawyers.
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. His suicide left some of them angry, others sad. One said she was relieved that he was gone and could abuse no others.
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.
One woman who remained anonymous said Epstein when she was 15 flew her to a ranch where she was sexually molested for many hours while he kept insisting he was helping her to grow. She said he abused her in a position where she would see his framed pictures of himself on a dresser, smiling with celebrities.
Teala Davies, taking deep breaths to steady her voice, said she was 17 when she was victimized. She said she thought Epstein was the most powerful person in the world.
“But the end is here, and here I stand, feeling more powerful than he will ever be,” she said.
A New York City coroner ruled that Epstein hanged himself. But one of Epstein’s lawyers, Martin Weinberg, challenged that finding during Tuesday’s hearing, saying an expert hired by the defense determined that broken bones in his neck were “more consistent with pressure … with homicide” than suicide.
“Find out what happened to our client,” the lawyer told the judge. “We’re quite angry.”
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.”
But the judge took no immediate action on the request, and prosecutors noted that a grand jury is already investigating the death.
At his death, Epstein was being held without bail, accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls in the early 2000s at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.
Attorney General William Barr has vowed that anyone who aided Epstein in sex trafficking will be pursued. He also removed the jail warden and the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons and placed two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein the morning he died on leave.
Epstein’s lawyers 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.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes unless they give their consent, which several Epstein accusers have done.
Dr. Michael Baden, the pathologist hired by Epstein’s representatives to observe the autopsy, said he is awaiting the report from the medical examiner’s office before offering his opinion.
Baden was the city’s chief medical examiner in the late 1970s and has been called as an expert witness in a number of big cases, including O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.