Over a week after jury deliberations began in the trial of alleged sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, the judge issued a change to the jury proceedings on Tuesday.
According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York said the jury could deliberate until at least 6 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, if necessary.
Up until that point, the deliberations had been halted at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Nathan cited an “astronomical spike” in COVID-19 cases in New York as the reason for allowing the extra hour of jury deliberations.
“We now face a high and escalating risk that jurors and/or trial participants may need to quarantine,” she told attorneys Tuesday as the jury deliberated in Manhattan.
Maxwell is on trial for six counts of sex trafficking and other crimes, Reuters reported. The charges are related to accusations that Maxwell groomed four teenage girls for sex with convicted sex offender and accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
The encounters reportedly occurred between 1994 and 2004. All four women testified against Maxwell during the trial.
According to Reuters, three of the women alleged Maxwell herself touched their naked bodies. One of those women, Annie Farmer, gave a harrowing account of her encounter with Maxwell at Epstein’s New Mexico ranch.
Farmer said Maxwell asked her strip naked for a massage, the New York Post reported. She then asked Farmer to flip over onto her back, at which point Farmer said she felt “frozen.”
“She pulled the sheet down and exposed my breasts,” Farmer said. “She started rubbing on my chest and on my upper breasts.”
Meanwhile, Maxwell’s defense team has said prosecutors are targeting her only because of their ire toward Epstein, who never stood trial after he died in a prison cell in 2019.
After three weeks of emotional testimonies and arguments, both sides rested their case. The jury began deliberations on Dec. 20, and they resumed Monday after a four-day break for Christmas.
Just one day after the deliberations resumed, Nathan decided the jury proceedings needed to be amended.
“We are very simply at a different place regarding the epidemic than we were even a week ago,” she said, according to Reuters.
Nathan first raised the possibility of extending deliberations by an hour on Monday afternoon, the outlet reported.
At that point, defense attorney Laura Menninger worried that Nathan’s reasoning was “beginning to sound like urging them to hurry up.”
Nathan reportedly told jurors to contact her office if staying the extra hour would be a problem for them before making the decision Tuesday.