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'Substitute camera' captures Ghislaine Maxwell trial drama

by Mallika Sen, Associated Press | January 8, 2022 at 10:00 p.m. | Updated January 17, 2022 at 2:01 p.m.
FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, pulls down her mask to talk to one of her lawyers, Jeffrey Pagliuca, during Maxwell's sex trafficking trial, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams, File)

NEW YORK -- As Ghislaine Maxwell strode into the courtroom for the first day of her sex-trafficking trial, no photographer was allowed to catch it. Courtroom artist Elizabeth Williams, however, was at the ready and before the hour was up, the curtain-raising scene was transmitted to news outlets around the world.

Cameras are generally prohibited in federal court. And unlike disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein -- also drawn by Williams but much photographed going to and from his sex-abuse trial -- Maxwell was still jailed during her trial, ferried each way out of sight from the press and public.

"I'm basically the substitute camera," Williams said, emphasizing that she's "not using artistic license to move anything around."

Williams has been the public's eyes in courtrooms since 1980 and has drawn for The Associated Press since 2004, though the typical flurry of courthouse activity slowed during the coronavirus pandemic. Maxwell's was the first full trial Williams covered from the courtroom itself in the pandemic era, coming right on the heels of R. Kelly's own sex-trafficking trial over in Brooklyn federal court.

There, the judge had barred media from the courtroom, so Williams was forced to draw the R&B singer and witnesses off monitors in an overflow room, where she said everything was blurry and "the judge's head was the size of a dime." At the Manhattan federal courthouse, in contrast, Williams was seated close enough to Maxwell to hear her speak French to her siblings.

Williams has had to hone her news judgment to keep apprised of the moments that will become indelible images. And the sketches are just that, indelible -- there's no room for an eraser in the "whole huge bag of art supplies" she toted into court. She uses brushes, pens and high-quality pastels and estimates she throws out as many as half the sketches she starts.

Over the course of Maxwell's monthlong trial, which ended with last week's conviction, Williams says she produced around 100 sketches of witness testimony, attorney arguments, jurors, the judge, spectators and, above all, the defendant herself.

"It's great when you can draw a trial a lot, because the more you can draw somebody, the better you're going to get at drawing them," Williams said, adding that Maxwell "kept a pretty cool persona" that necessitated close study.

Jeffrey Epstein, by contrast, was "incredibly fidgety." Williams drew Epstein, the ex-boyfriend-turned-employer of Maxwell, at his unsuccessful bail hearings before his 2019 jailhouse suicide.

Here, Williams takes the AP through her sketchpad, coloring in the key moments of Maxwell's trial with her behind-the-scenes observations:

Williams prefers a wall between herself and subjects: "I don't like to become friendly with anybody I'm drawing. I'm looking at them as they're a news story to me and I want them to stay that way."

Maxwell breached that divide, attracting some attention for drawing the courtroom artists themselves. A meta sketch by Reuters artist Jane Rosenberg of Maxwell drawing her even went viral.

Williams said Maxwell was keenly aware of the artists, but it wasn't initially clear what exactly the defendant was up to on her own pad of paper. Even once Williams discovered the defendant was drawing the artists, she stayed on her side of the divide, doing her own sketch of Maxwell at work but unbothered.

"I was like, 'OK, that's fine. Do what you want to. But it's not going to affect anything I do,'" Williams said.

Williams said Maxwell would occasionally purposefully pose, something that actually served the artist's purposes.

"It's much more captivating to have somebody, they're looking right at the camera, or they're looking right at the artist, and so people looking at the drawing are seeing somebody looking right at them," Williams said.

The dynamic continued through the last day of the trial, when Maxwell seemed buoyed by a jury note hours before the verdict.

  photo  In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell enters the courtroom escorted by U.S. Marshalls at the start of her trial, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in New York. As Ghislaine Maxwell strode into the courtroom for the first day of her sex-trafficking trial, no photographer was allowed to catch it. Courtroom artist Elizabeth Williams, however, was at the ready and before the hour was up, the boldly rendered scene was transmitted to news outlets around the world. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, right, sits with her mask off during a break in her sex trafficking trial, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this artist's sketch made from a video screen monitor of a Brooklyn courtroom, defendant R. Kelly, left, listens during the opening day of his trial, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 in New York. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Harvey Weinstein, center, flanked by his defense attorneys, listens during his sentencing in a Manhattan courtroom, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, center, sits with attorneys Martin Weinberg, left, and Marc Fernich during his arraignment in New York federal court, Monday, July 8, 2019. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this July 15, 2019 courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and his attorney Martin Weinberg listen during a bail hearing in federal court, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, seated second from right, draws a courtroom artist, standing far left, during a courtroom break in her sex-abuse trial, Tuesday Dec. 7, 2021, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell center, confers with her defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca, right, before testimony begins in her sex-abuse trial, in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, center, sits in the courtroom during a discussion about a note from the jury, during her sex trafficking trial, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams, File)
 
 

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