One by one, more than a dozen 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 to 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 15. "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 proceeding was held for the purpose of throwing out the indictment because of the defendant's death -- a usually pro forma step.
But the judge offered Epstein's accusers an unusual opportunity to be heard 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 both his alleged crimes and his suicide in his jail 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."
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, telling the judge that 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."
Opening the session, Berman called the 66-year-old Epstein's suicide a "rather stunning turn of events." Before he allowed others to speak, Berman blasted a law journal article that both criticized the public hearing and noted that requests by prosecutors to drop charges are routinely handled without a hearing. The judge said the article suggested the hearing was introducing drama into the court process. "What little drama might happen today, I don't think, would be very significant," Berman said.
"Public hearings ... promote transparency and provide the court with insights and information that the court might otherwise not be aware of." 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 case have done.