memory expert | 

Accusers can suffer from ‘false memories’, says Ghislaine Maxwell defence team psychologist

Witness who helped acquit OJ Simpson opens for the defence in sex-trafficking trial
A courtroom sketch shows prosecutor Lara Pomerantz questioning psychologist Elizabeth Loftus in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell for sex trafficking

A courtroom sketch shows prosecutor Lara Pomerantz questioning psychologist Elizabeth Loftus in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell for sex trafficking

Isabel Maxwell, sister of Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives at the courthouse in New York City. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Isabel Maxwell, sister of Ghislaine Maxwell, arrives at the courthouse in New York City. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Josie EnsorTelegraph Media Group Limited

A memory expert who helped acquit OJ Simpson said people can form “vivid” false recollections as she testified in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial.

Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist and University of California professor, explained how memories can be “corrupted over time” as Ms Maxwell’s legal team opened their defence.

“When you have post-event suggestion or intervention, people get very confident about their wrong answers,” Ms 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.”

Ms Loftus has testified at 300 trials, including those of Harvey Weinstein, serial killer Ted Bundy, Bill Cosby and acquitted American football player OJ Simpson.

But her credibility was questioned under cross-examination last night.

Ms Loftus said she was being paid $600 (€530) an hour by the defence – and admitted that in the roughly 150 criminal trials she has been called for, she has only acted for the prosecution once, more than 20 years ago.

Prosecution attorney Laura Pomerantz asked: “You wrote a book called Witness for the Defence?”

“Yes,” replied Ms Loftus.

“You didn’t write a book called ‘impartial witness’?”

“No.”

Ms Maxwell’s lawyers have argued that the memories of the four accusers who testified as prosecution witnesses have become corrupted over two decades since the alleged abuse.

Ms Loftus (77) told about her studies on the “misinformation effect”, where a person exposed to misinformation after an event can go on to include it in their memory. She had researched “how people can develop memories of things that didn’t happen, or remember things differently from the way they were.”

Ms Loftus failed to convince a jury that the memory of one of Weinstein’s rape victims was defective at the film director’s trial. False memory syndrome has not been ratified by the American Psychological Association.

After a three-day adjournment, Ms Maxwell (59), who is facing up to 80 years in prison, launched her fightback. Sleeves rolled up, she was animated, whispering to her lawyers. Her brother, Ian, hit out at the US government, saying it “simply did not have the evidence”.

But the defence got off to a shaky start in the morning after the judge ruled not to allow two of their key witnesses to take the stand, while another came down with Covid. Maxwell’s legal team wanted to call three lawyers who represent the accusers, in the hope of grilling them about communication they had had with the government.

Prosecutors said the British socialite’s team was trying to circumvent attorney-client privilege by only asking about conversations the lawyers had with investigators. Judge Alison Nathan agreed on two of the three lawyers, leaving the defence down two witnesses.

Another witness who was coming from outside the US had recently tested positive for Covid and would be unable to travel before the defence wrapped up its case. Bobbi Sternheim for the defence asked whether he would be able to appear via videolink.

In a further blow, Judge Nathan then questioned the relevance of land registry documents the defence had procured from London. The defence team wanted to submit into evidence a copy of a 1997 contract for the purchase of Ms Maxwell’s Belgravia flat.

Christian Everdell claimed the documents showed that one of the four alleged victims who testified in the first week was mistaken in her memory of visiting Maxwell at that home in 1994 and 1995.

The British accuser, using the pseudonym Kate, had told the court that she had been invited to tea at the Kinnerton Street property by Ms Maxwell, who later introduced her to boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. She alleges she was led by Ms Maxwell into a massage room in the home, where she was then sexually abused by Epstein. The trial continues. (©Telegraph Media Group)


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