By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The jury in Ghislaine Maxwell's sex abuse trial may weigh whether the British socialite "consciously avoided" knowledge of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged encounters with teenage girls, the judge in the case said on Saturday.
Maxwell, 59, faces eight counts of sex trafficking and other charges.
Prosecutors say Maxwell recruited and groomed four teenagers to have sexual contact with the late financier between 1994 and 2004. Three of the accusers testified at the trial that Maxwell herself inappropriately touched them when they were teenagers.
Closing arguments in the case are set to begin on Monday. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan would then give the jury instructions before deliberations begin.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty, and her lawyers argue she is being scapegoated because Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges. They have sought to distance their client from Epstein, whom she dated and worked for decades ago.
During a Saturday conference, Maxwell's defense objected to a proposed instruction that the jury may convict her if they conclude she deliberately ignored any criminal behavior by Epstein.
They argued that since prosecutors elicited testimony from women who said Maxwell was directly involved with Epstein's alleged acts, the jury cannot also be told that "conscious avoidance" was proof of guilt.
"This seems to be here as some sort of backup option," Maxwell attorney Christian Everdell said. "The theory they're proceeding on is that she's an active participant. They can't have it both ways."
But Nathan said that since the defense had implied in its Nov. 29 opening statement that Maxwell, despite her closeness with Epstein, was unaware of his alleged behavior, it would be fair to include the instruction to the jury.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis)