Who is Elizabeth Loftus? 'False memories' expert to defend Ghislaine Maxwell in trial

Psychologist allowed to testify at trial with testimony on sexual abuse has testified at Robert Durst and Harvey Weinstein's trials as well


                            Who is Elizabeth Loftus? 'False memories' expert to defend Ghislaine Maxwell in trial
In her defense, Ghislaine Maxwell's team will be calling on controversial American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus (L) (University of California/Irvine, Rob Kim/Getty Images)
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From November 29 onwards, Ghislaine Maxwell will be on trial at the Manhattan Federal court on multiple charges of conspiracy, enticement, and sex trafficking. At the moment, it's unclear who the prosecution plans to call to testify, beyond the four girls who have come forward to accuse Maxwell. In her defense, Maxwell's team will be calling on American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a controversial figure at best. 

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The trial isn't expected to link Maxwell and Epstein to others rumored to be involved like Prince Andrew and Donald Trump, but it is expected to reveal just how much Maxwell knew about Epstein's activities. The disgraced socialite has claimed she won't be getting a fair trial, as has her brother, but few people appeared to take those claims seriously. 

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Despite the mounting evidence against Maxwell, there's still a concern she may not be convicted. It all lies in the hands of her defense team, who will be getting a bit of help from Loftus. Here's everything we know about her, and why her testimony matters.

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Elizabeth Loftus testifies for the defense in the Paul Shanley child abuse trial at Middlesex Superior Court on February 3, 2005, in Cambridge Massachusetts. (Jodi Hilton/Getty Images)

Who is Elizabeth Loftus?

An expert on human memory, Loftus currently teaches Criminology and Law & Society at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). After obtaining a B.A. from UCLA, Loftus studied psychology at Stanford, where she obtained both her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. She's been teaching at UCI since 2002 and has had previous stints at the University of Washington, Harvard University, and Georgetown University Law Center.

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Her core areas of research and work include cognitive psychology and human memory. "Her experiments reveal how memories can be changed by things that we are told. Facts, ideas, suggestions, and other post-event information can modify our memories," her UCI profile says. It is because of that, Loftus has become a go-to witness in many cases where memories matter. From the Rodney King case to the Bosnian war trial at The Hague, Loftus has testified at hundreds of key cases.

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Her work has garnered numerous accolated and is well-recognized by the American Psychological Association. In 2002, she was ranked #58 in a study on the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, becoming the highest-ranking woman on the list. In fact, she's something of an expert on rape and sexual abuse, having written the 1994 book 'The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegation of Sexual Abuse'. 

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Elizabeth Loftus giving a speech at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute in 2015. (Harvard University/YouTube)

 

Why Loftus' testimony matters

Amongst the many trials she has testified at, Loftus' words were vital during the trials of Robert Durst and Harvey Weinstein. "It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that memory fades over time," she said during Weinstein's trial. She added that interactions with law enforcement "can lead people to want to produce details." While it didn't help get Weinstein off the hook, Loftus' testimony was enough to poke holes in the prosecution's case.

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It's something the prosecution in Maxwell's case knows, which is why they initially objected to her being called as a witness. Nonetheless, the judge sided with the defense but hasn't exactly ruled if it will be admissible in court. Her testimony is powerful, and because of her extensive work and accolades, she is often considered a safe bet for people like Maxwell. In fact, a 2021 profile by The New Yorker described Loftus as someone who has "changed the meaning of memory."

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Maxwell’s lawyer Jeffrey Pagliuca wrote in a letter, "She will describe scientific research showing that false memories can be described with confidence, detail, and emotion, just like true memories." Pagliuca added, "her testimony will concern the workings of human memory... the characteristics of false memories, how memory fades and weakens over time, and how memory becomes more vulnerable to contamination." Basically, Maxwell's team wants Loftus to poke enough holes in the four women's stories for Maxwell to be off the hook. 

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That is indeed the job of the defense, so all eyes will be on the prosecution and how they respond to Loftus' testimony. It could be the difference between years in jail, and Maxwell walking out free.