Two weeks ago, after it was reported that disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein had died at the age of 66, many of his victims were furious that they would never find justice or see their day in court.
On Tuesday, however, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman decided to hold a hearing dismissing the criminal charges against Epstein, thus providing more than a dozen women with an opportunity to come to the courthouse and tell their stories — perhaps for the last time .
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“I feel very angry, sad. And justice has never been served in this case,” said Courtney Wild, who alleged that she was sexually abused by Epstein when she was just 14 years old. Wild, who had previously spoken to the Miami Herald about her abuse by Epstein, was the first to address the court at the hearing on Tuesday. During her remarks, Wild called Epstein a “coward,” saying that his death “robbed myself and all of the other victims” of the opportunity to seek justice.
In total, a dozen women spoke in front of the court, many of whom were anonymous and were referred to only as “Jane Doe.” All of them expressed their anger at Epstein’s death having deprived them of their chance to finally face them in court, with one saying that news of Epstein’s death “felt like new trauma all over again.”
In light of Epstein’s death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), which investigators have deemed an apparent suicide, the sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy charges against him will be dismissed. Yet because of the enormous public interest in the case, Judge Berman decided to slightly deviate from protocol by holding a public hearing before prosecutors move to dismiss the charges. “The Court believes that where, as here, 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,” Berman said in an August 21st ruling.
In a statement to reporters, Bradley Edwards, the attorney for many of Epstein’s accusers, said that 15 of Epstein’s victims in total showed up at court. He referred to the hearing as “historic.” “It solidifies the fact that victims are an integral part of the process,” he said.
A wealthy financier with ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump, Epstein was arrested at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport in July and charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. An unsealed indictment alleged he had molested “dozens” of girls as young as 14 at his homes in New York and Palm Beach between 2002 and 2005.
In 2006, Epstein faced charges of solicitation of sex with a minor, to which he had pleaded guilty in a sweetheart deal orchestrated by then-Florida State’s Attorney Alexander Acosta. Epstein served a 13-month prison sentence, much of which he served on work release from the comfort of a Palm Beach office. The terms of this plea deal were not reported to the public until a 2018 Miami Herald investigation, drawing widespread ire and prompting Acosta to later resign from his post as U.S. labor secretary under President Donald Trump.
Following his arrest in July, Epstein had pleaded not guilty to the charges and was awaiting trial, when he was found dead in his cell on August 10th. Due to Epstein’s wealth and connections, many speculated that Epstein did not take his own life and was in fact murdered, despite there being no evidence to support this theory and New York chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson officially deeming his death a suicide.
Amidst such speculation, many of Epstein’s victims were outraged that his death had deprived them of their opportunity to face him in court. “I am angry Jeffrey Epstein won’t have to face his survivors of his abuse in court. We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz said in a statement sent to Rolling Stone at the time of his death.
As Rolling Stone previously reported, Epstein’s death effectively ends the criminal case against him, though his victims will have the opportunity to file suit against his estate. The FBI has also promised to continue investigations into any potential co-conspirators associated with the Epstein case, such as Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend who has been referred to as his “madam” and is alleged to have procured young women for him. (Maxwell has repeatedly denied these claims.)
During the hearing, Epstein’s accusers addressed prosecutors directly, urging them to continue investigating potential co-conspirators despite Epstein’s death. “Please finish what you started,” Sarah Ransome, one of Epstein’s accusers, said.
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