This editorial was first published in The Washington Post. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
“Justice has never been served in this case.” That is how Courtney Wild, one of the many women who says she was sexually abused as a child by Jeffrey Epstein, bitterly — and aptly — characterized government failure to hold the wealthy financier to account for his alleged crimes. Her words should be more than an epitaph; instead, they should serve as a powerful prod to federal prosecutors to leave no stone unturned in determining if there were others culpable in Epstein’s crimes.
A Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday became a forum for Epstein’s accusers to vent their anger and frustration as formal charges against him were dismissed after the financier died by suicide while awaiting trial in federal custody. “Jeffrey Epstein robbed myself and all the other victims of our day in court to confront him one by one, and for that he is a coward,” said Wild, the first of more than a dozen women who spoke.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who oversaw the case before Epstein’s Aug. 10 death, ordered Tuesday’s unusual hearing as a matter of respect to the women, saying he wanted to allow them to “be heard, if they wish to be.” That’s a courtesy — indeed, a right — that had too long been denied to the girls and young women whom Epstein preyed upon, even as concerns about his behavior mounted.
Consider the recent chilling account by The New York Times of two sisters who 23 years ago went to New York police and the FBI with their complaints of inappropriate contact, to no avail. Or how Epstein’s legal team in 2008 brokered an infamously lenient plea deal with federal prosecutors without the knowledge of his victims. It was only after Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown gave voice to the victims that federal prosecutors in New York brought sex-trafficking charges against him.
Those prosecutors told the court Tuesday their investigation continues and that charges against potential co-conspirators and the civil forfeiture of Epstein’s assets are still possible. That is reassuring, because if you listen to the women who were victimized, they will tell you Epstein got help in procuring teenage girls and women for sex with him and others. That names of some prominent people have come up — all of whom deny any knowledge or wrongdoing — demands there be a thorough investigation and a full airing of the findings. By the same token, there are questions about Epstein’s suicide — including skepticism about the reported facts expressed by his lawyers Tuesday in court — that hopefully will be answered when investigations ordered by Attorney General William Barr are completed.