MIAMI -- The young victims of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will get a second chance at seeking justice after an entire appellate court agreed Friday to rehear claims that federal prosecutors in South Florida violated their rights when they kept them in the dark about a secret plea deal with the now-deceased Palm Beach multimillionaire.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a previous panel's 2-1 decision that rejected a petition by one of Epstein's victims. She sought to undo the agreement that federal prosecutors struck with Epstein not to charge him with trafficking girls for his own sexual pleasure more than a decade ago.
A majority of the appeals court in Atlanta voted to rehear the appeal, setting the stage for a possible solution for potentially dozens of victims in the ground-breaking Epstein case. Despite its ruling in April, the three-judge panel had called the South Florida prosecutors' deal with Epstein "beyond scandalous" and a "national disgrace."
Epstein, 66, committed suicide a year ago while he was in custody on federal sex trafficking charges in New York.
The three judges narrowly rejected Courtney Wild's petition to compel federal prosecutors in South Florida to charge Epstein on the grounds that the feds violated Wild's and other victims' rights when they cut a secret deal with him behind their backs. Instead, prosecutors allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lenient solicitation charges in state court in Palm Beach County.
"I had confidence this day would come," Wild said in a statement through her lawyers. "We have fought for 12 years, and as I've said before, no matter how many obstacles pile up, we will never give up fighting for what is right."
Her lawyers vowed to get Epstein's "secret" plea deal with South Florida prosecutors thrown out.
"This is an important ruling for crime victims, not just for Epstein's victims but all victims of federal crimes," Wild's lawyers, Paul Cassell and Brad Edwards, said. "We look forward to arguing before the full Eleventh Circuit that 'secret' plea deal violates the Crime Victims' Rights Act and that this particular deal should be rescinded."
Previously, the three-judge appellate panel had ruled that because prosecutors never brought charges against Epstein in the federal court in South Florida, his victims were not legally allowed to seek relief under the Crime Victims' Rights Act.
"Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein's hands, only to be left in the dark -- and, so it seems, affirmatively misled -- by government lawyers, we find ourselves constrained to deny her petition," Judge Kevin Newsom wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Judge Gerald Tjoflat.