Less than three weeks after Jeffrey Epstein's suicide in prison, a federal judge has formally closed the sex trafficking case against the wealthy financier. On Thursday, Judge Richard Berman of the Southern District of New York approved a request filed by prosecutors to dismiss the charges.
"Because Jeffrey Epstein, the defendant, died while this case was pending, and therefore before a final judgment was issued, the Indictment must be dismissed under rule of abatement," Berman wrote, referring to the rule under which, if a defendant dies midway through a case, the indictment is wiped clean.
The decision brings an unsatisfying end to a criminal case that captured the attention of the country — but it does not close the door on future legal matters involving his estate or his associates. Several of Epstein's accusers have filed major lawsuits against his estate since he was discovered unresponsive in his cell earlier this month, and federal authorities have repeatedly vowed to pursue the co-conspirators who supported his alleged operation.
Prosecutors and accusers say that from at least the early 2000s, Epstein and his network of friends recruited girls as young as 14 years old, misled them and forced them to have sex with him and other prominent men. Though suspicions long lingered around the financier, he eluded attempts to get him to stand trial — including in 2008, when he accepted a lenient plea deal that meant only about a year in jail for the sex crime he admitted.
The deal was so lenient, in fact, that after its details surfaced, the controversy led to the resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who negotiated the agreement back when he was a U.S. attorney in Florida.
This time around, Epstein's accusers at least got the opportunity to tell their stories in an unusual hearing on Tuesday. At that hearing, more than a dozen women came forward to tell stories of how Epstein tricked, coerced and sexually assaulted them, often when they were still underage.
"Jeffrey Epstein ruined me. His recruiter ruined me," said one accuser, who signed her statement "Jane Doe" and released it through her attorney, Lisa Bloom. "The far reaching consequences of that day [that I was recruited] ruined my family's lives."
Another accuser, Teala Davies, succinctly summed up the hearing for reporters outside the Manhattan courthouse afterward: "All I'm going to say is today was a day of power and strength."
It was also a day of disappointment. Many of the women in the courtroom expressed just how devastated they were to receive the news that he had taken his own life and once more avoided trial.
But it's not over.
At the hearing Tuesday, prosecutors vowed that the dismissal of charges "in no way lessens the government's resolve to stand up for the victims in this case." The next day, the FBI released a new call for his alleged victims to contact the agency with their stories.