Judge Alison Nathan on Tuesday, Dec. 28, expressed concerns that New York City’s COVID-19 surge could derail the proceedings of Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial, seeking to extend the jury’s hours.
According to Associated Press, Nathan granted jurors’ requests to leave at 5 p.m., or an hour earlier than planned, but she told them they were expected to work toward a verdict the rest of the week if needed.
The judge earlier on Tuesday said that she feared jurors and trial participants might become infected with coronavirus and be forced to quarantine, causing a mistrial.
“We now face a high and escalating risk that jurors and trial participants may need to quarantine,” Nathan said. “We are, very simply, at a different place regarding the pandemic than we were a week ago.”
“I conclude that proceeding this way is the best chance to both give the jury as much time as they need and to avoid a mistrial as a result of the Omicron variant,” she said.
The jury stopped at 5 p.m. during the first week of deliberations. Late Monday, Nathan told jurors that they should be prepared to stay until at least 6 p.m. moving forward. But after they assured her that their deliberations were moving along and making progress, then she agreed to release them early.
The judge had earlier considered requiring deliberations every day—including the New Year’s weekend if necessary until they reach a verdict, but defense lawyers pushed back.
“We would object to trying to urge them to stay later if they are not asking to do so and aren’t expressing any difficulty in proceeding with the deliberations that they are currently undertaking,” said Laura Menninger, a defense lawyer.
According to New York Times, the jury began its deliberations on Dec. 20, but because jurors were given days off for the holiday, the panel completed only three full days of deliberations by the end of Monday of this week.
Maxwell, 60, a former associate of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, faces six charges as she allegedly played a crucial role in her boyfriend’s sexual abuse of teenage girls between 1994 and 2004.
Defense lawyers have said Maxwell is being used as a scapegoat by prosecutors after the government was embarrassed by Epstein’s suicide at a federal jail in Manhattan in August 2019 while he awaited a trial.