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People can confidently recall false memories, expert testifies at Maxwell trial

ghislaine maxwell trial in new york
Ghislaine Maxwell speaks with Bobbi Sternheim as defense witness Cimberly Espinosa is questioned by lawyer Christian Everdell in a courtroom sketch in New York City

A psychologist testifying for Ghislaine Maxwell‘s defense in the British socialite’s sex abuse trial said on Thursday that people can sound confident when they recall false memories.

The testimony from Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the University of California, Irvine, is part of the defense effort to undermine the credibility of four women who say that Maxwell groomed them for abuse by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein when they were teenagers.

“When you have post-event suggestion or intervention, people get very confident about their wrong answers,” Loftus said. “False memories … can be very vivid, detailed. People can be confident about them, people can be emotional about them, even though they’re false.”

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty. Her attorneys argue the memories of the four accusers who testified for the prosecution have become corrupted over the years. The alleged abuse took place between 1994 and 2004, according to a 2021 indictment.

Loftus has been a witness or consultant for hundreds of trials, including those of Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson. On Thursday, she discussed experiments in which she and colleagues had successfully planted false memories in participants’ minds.

The four women testified that Maxwell played a key role in setting them up for abuse by Epstein. One of the women, known as Jane, said Maxwell herself took part in some sexual encounters with Jane and Epstein.

During cross-examination Maxwell‘s attorneys asked the women why they did not mention Maxwell during initial conversations with law enforcement. Maxwell‘s attorneys argue prosecutors are using Maxwell as a stand-in for Epstein, who died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.

Under questioning by Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim, Loftus said that law enforcement officials often pressure witnesses to provide more details, and that even traumatic experiences can be subject to “post-event suggestion.”

The prosecution rested its case last Friday, and Loftus was the third witness called to the stand by Maxwell‘s defense.

Jurors earlier on Thursday heard from Cimberly Espinosa, a former Maxwell executive assistant who testified that she never saw Maxwell or Epstein engage in inappropriate behavior with underage girls.

Espinosa recalled seeing Jane, along with Jane’s mother and brothers, on multiple occasions at Epstein’s New York office when she worked for Maxwell between 1996 and 2002. She said Jane appeared to be 18 years old when they met.

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