NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Women who accuse the late Jeffrey Epstein of sexual assault told their stories in federal court in lower Manhattan on Tuesday.
In all, 16 spoke out about the abuse they allegedly suffered. The judge is expected to decide if the indictment against Epstein will be dropped, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
The presiding judge called Epstein’s recent death a “rather stunning turn of events.”
Following the financier’s suicide in prison on Aug. 10, prosecutors asked U.S. Judge Richard Berman to drop the charges against him. The judge could have signed the order, but instead invited Epstein’s accusers and their attorneys to Tuesday’s hearing to address the court.
“The court believes that where, as where, a defendant has died before any judgment has been entered against him, the public may still have an informational interest in the process by which the prosecutor seeks dismissal of an indictment,” Judge Berman wrote.
One of Epstein’s accusers, Courtney Wild, said the late financier was a “coward,” and she feels “very angry and sad” that he killed himself before going to trial.
Wild has said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 14.
“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.”
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.”
During the 2 1/2-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.
The 66-year-old allegedly sexually abused dozens of women in the early 2000s at mansions in Manhattan and Florida.
Since Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled, it was revealed that Epstein signed a will just two days before his suicide putting over $577 million in assets into a trust fund. The will, filed in the Virgin Islands where Epstein maintained a residence, was expected to make it more difficult for dozens of accusers to collect damages.
Attorney General William Barr has vowed that anyone who aided Epstein in sex trafficking will be pursued in a continuing investigation.
He also removed the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons from his position, placed two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein the morning he died on administrative leave and temporarily reassigned the warden to the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Barr has said officials had uncovered “serious irregularities” and was angry that staff members at the federal lockup had failed to “adequately secure this prisoner.”
At the time of his death, Epstein was preparing though his lawyers to argue in court papers due in September that he could not be prosecuted because he signed a no-prosecution deal with prosecutors a dozen years ago in Florida. Prosecutors in New York said that deal did not prevent the new charges. Epstein signed it before he pleaded guilty to Florida state charges in 2008, admitting sexual relations with teenage girls under the age of consent.
The suicide happened despite a warning in late July when Epstein was found on the floor of his cell with bruises to his neck. After Epstein died, Berman asked the jail’s warden for answers about that episode, saying it had never been “definitively explained.”
Epstein spent a few days under suicide watch but then was transferred back to a cell in a Special Housing Unit where he had a cellmate. Eventually, though, the cellmate was taken out and he was left alone.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)