Ghislaine Maxwell trial: Defense questions ‘false memory’ expert, casting doubt on accusations

‘One thing we know about memory is that it doesn’t work like a recording device,’ says psychologist Elizabeth Loftus

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 16 December 2021 19:13

Court hears four women met Ghislaine Maxwell as teens, accusing her as adults

As the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell continues, her lawyers have begun questioning a psychologist known for her expertise on “false memories”.

“One thing we know about memory is that it doesn’t work like a recording device,” Dr Elizabeth Loftus told the court, according to Law & Crime reporter Adam Klasfeld.

The defence will likely use Dr Loftus’ testimony to cast doubt on the accusations against Ms Maxwell and her former boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein. Ms Maxwell has been charged with enabling Epstein for years as he sexually exploited underage girls. She denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty.

Dr Loftus has a long resume as a witness. Her extensive research on the fallibility of human memory has made her extremely useful to lawyers trying to discredit accusations, especially those that rely on years-old recollections. She has previously appeared as a defence expert for Harvey Weinstein, Robert Durst, OJ Simpson, and Ted Bundy.

On Thursday, Ms Maxwell’s attorneys quickly made use of Dr Loftus’ expertise. After a memory is first formed, she told the court, it can be corrupted by outside information or “suggestion.”

“The media is a source of post-event suggestion,” Dr Loftus testified.

The allegations against Ms Maxwell and Epstein have been heavily scrutinized by the news media, which the defence has been trying to use to its advantage.

Another opening the defence is exploring is the amount of time that has passed since the events described by Ms Maxwell’s accusers, many of which took place in the 1990s.

On Thursday, Dr Loftus testified that memories have three phases: acquisition, when they are initially formed; retention, when the memory is kept; and retrieval, when someone or something asks for the memory to be recalled. That act of deliberately remembering something, the psychologist said, can change the memory itself.

“We are actually constructing our memories while we retrieve memories,” Dr Loftus told the court.

At one point, the defence seemed to be on the verge of declaring all memories unreliable.

“Outside the laboratory, is there a way to prove that someone had an actual memory?” one of Ms Maxwell’s lawyers asked.

“Objection!” the prosecution shot back. It was sustained.

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