Maxwell judge tells jury to deliberate longer due to high COVID cases in New York City

December 28, 2021, 4:41 PM UTC

The judge presiding over Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial said the “astronomical spike” in COVID cases in New York was a reason for jurors to deliberate an extra hour every evening.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan on Tuesday morning asked jurors to stay until 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. every night this week until they reach a verdict. She pointed to the growing likelihood that COVID could disrupt deliberations. 

“We now face a higher and escalating risk that the jurors and trial participants may need to quarantine,” she said, adding, “Extending deliberations by an hour gives the jury more time as the jury continues to engage in its thoughtful deliberations.”

The jury had also been expecting to have Thursday and Friday off, but Nathan said that would no longer be the case.

‘A different place’

“We are simply in a different place regarding the pandemic than we were a week ago,” she said, adding, “It is time to have the jury make plans to continue to deliberate until a verdict is reached.”

The jury began its fifth day of deliberations on Tuesday. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to charges that she lured and groomed underage girls for sexual abuse by Jeffrey Epstein and participated in some of the abuse herself. The trial began on Nov. 29, and the case went to the jury on Dec. 20.

In a surge fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, New York City has reported a daily average of more than 20,000 confirmed and probable COVID cases in the past week. That’s more than double the daily average over the past 28 days. Though cases are at a record, hospitalizations and deaths for now remain well below record highs reached in 2020.

The court has a number of safety measures in place for jurors, who must wear masks at all times and deliberate at O-shaped tables that allow them to remain at least six feet apart. Starting yesterday, the chief federal judge in Manhattan required any mask worn in the courthouse to be an N-95, KF-94, or KN-95 for extra protection.

But Nathan, unlike some of her colleagues on the federal bench, did not require all jurors to be vaccinated.

—With assistance from Stacie Sherman.

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