NEW YORK (AP) — Women who say they were victimized by Jeffrey Epstein expressed anger Tuesday over his suicide in a New York City jail, saying during an unusual court hearing that he deprived them of a chance at justice.
"He is a coward," said Courtney Wild, who has said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Florida at age 14. "Justice has never been served in this case."
The hearing was convened by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who presided over the case after federal prosecutors charged Epstein with sex trafficking last month.
The proceeding was held for the purpose of throwing out the case because of the defendant's death — a usually pro forma step. But the judge offered Epstein's accusers an extraordinary opportunity to be heard in court after the financier's suicide Aug. 10 denied them the chance to testify against at a trial.
Opening the session, Berman called the 66-year-old Epstein's suicide a "rather stunning turn of events."
Repeatedly, the women described themselves as survivors and said they hoped coming forward publicly would encourage other women to heal.
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 in his cell.
One of Epstein's lawyers, Martin Weinberg, challenged that ruling 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."
Before he allowed others to speak, Berman blasted a law journal article that 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 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.