Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday at his sexual assault trial, sealing his dizzying fall from powerful Hollywood studio boss to archvillain of the #MeToo movement.
He was found guilty of criminal sex act for assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 and third-degree rape of a woman in 2013. The jury found him not guilty on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault, that could have resulted in a life sentence.
The verdict followed weeks of often harrowing and excruciatingly graphic testimony from a string of accusers who told of rapes, forced oral sex, groping, masturbation, lewd propositions and that’s-Hollywood excuses from Weinstein about how the casting couch works.
The conviction was seen as a long-overdue reckoning for Weinstein after years of whispers about his behaviour turned into a torrent of accusations in 2017 that destroyed his career and gave rise to #MeToo, the global movement to encourage women to come forward and hold powerful men accountable for their sexual misconduct.
The jury of seven men and five women took five days to find him guilty.
The case against the once-feared producer was essentially built on three allegations: that he raped an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013, that he forcibly performed oral sex on Haleyi and that he raped and forcibly performed oral sex on “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra in her apartment in the mid-1990s.
Three additional women who said they, too, were attacked by Weinstein also testified as part of an effort by prosecutors to show a pattern of brutish behaviour on his part.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sex crimes unless they grant permission, as Haleyi and Sciorra did.
Jurors signalled their struggles with the Sciorra charges four days into deliberations. On Friday, after reviewing sections of her testimony and related evidence, they sent a note to the judge indicating they were deadlocked on the counts but had reached a unanimous verdict on the others. After some debate in the courtroom, the judge ordered jurors to keep deliberating.
While Weinstein did not testify, his lawyers contended that any sexual contact was consensual and that his accusers went to bed with him to advance their careers.
The defence seized on the fact that two of the women central to the case stayed in contact with Weinstein through warm and even flirty emails — and had sex with him — well after he supposedly attacked them.
The hard-charging and phenomenally successful movie executive helped bring to the screen such Oscar winners as “Good Will Hunting,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The King’s Speech” and “Shakespeare in Love” and nurtured the careers of celebrated filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith.
Weinstein now faces charges in Los Angeles. In that case, announced just as the New York trial was getting under way on Jan. 6, authorities allege Weinstein raped one woman and sexually assaulted another on back-to-back nights during Oscars week in 2013. One of those women testified as a supporting witness at the New York trial.
The trial was the first criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations against Weinstein from more than 90 women, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Uma Thurman. Most of those cases were too old to prosecute.
During the trial, Weinstein regularly trudged into the courthouse stooped and unshaven, using a walker after recently undergoing back surgery — a far cry from the way he was depicted in court as a burly, intimidating figure whose eyes seemed to turn black with menace when his anger flared.
Many of Weinstein’s accusers described him as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character who could be incredibly charming at first, making jokes and showing interest in using his immense power to help their careers.
But that was an act, they said, meant to gain their trust and get them to a place — often a hotel room or an apartment — where he could violate them.
“If he heard the word ‘no,’ it was like a trigger for him,” his rape accuser testified.
Several women testified that Weinstein excused his behaviour as the price for getting ahead in Hollywood. One said that when she laughed off his advances, he sneered, “You’ll never make it in this business. This is how this industry works.”
The jury heard lurid testimony that Weinstein injected himself with a needle to get an erection, that his genitals appeared disfigured, that he sent Sciorra a box of chocolate penises and that he once showed up uninvited at her hotel room door in his underwear with a bottle of baby oil in one hand and a video in the other.
The prosecution’s task was made more complicated because two of the women at the very centre of the case didn’t just abandon Weinstein after the alleged encounters: Haleyi testified that she had sex with him two weeks later, while the rape accuser whose name was withheld said she had a sexual encounter with him more than three years afterward.
Like Haleyi, she sent Weinstein friendly and sometimes flirtatious emails, such as “Miss you big guy” and “I love you, always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call.”
During a cross-examination from Weinstein’s lawyers so exhaustive that she broke down in tears on the stand, the woman said she sent him flattering emails and kept seeing him because she was afraid of his unpredictable anger and “I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat.”
To blunt that line of questioning, prosecutors called to the witness stand a forensic psychiatrist who said that most sexual assault victims continue to have contact with their attackers and that they hope what happened to them “is just an aberration.”
During closing arguments, Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno charged that Weinstein had become “the target of a cause and a movement” — #MeToo — and asked the jury to ignore “outside forces.”
“This is not a popularity contest,” she said.
She said the case against Weinstein amounted to “regret renamed as rape,” arguing that the women exercised their free will to try to further their careers.
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the jury that Weinstein considered himself such a big shot in Hollywood that he thought he could get away with treating women as “complete disposables.”
“The universe is run by me and they don’t get to complain when they get stepped on, spit on, demoralized and, yes, raped and abused by me — the king,” she said, mimicking Weinstein.
Rumours about Weinstein’s behaviour swirled in Hollywood circles for a long time, but he managed to silence many accusers with payoffs, nondisclosure agreements and the constant fear that he could crush their careers if they spoke out.
Weinstein was finally arrested and led away in handcuffs in May 2018, seven months after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed his alleged misconduct in stories that would win the Pulitzer Prize.
Among other men taken down by the #MeToo movement since the scandal broke: news anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, actor Kevin Spacey and Sen. Al Franken.
Weinstein, the product of a working-class family from Queens, achieved success at two movie studios he created with his brother Bob: Miramax — named for their parents, Miriam and Max — and then the Weinstein Co.
The Weinstein Co. went bankrupt after his disgrace. A tentative settlement was reached last year to resolve nearly all lawsuits stemming from the scandal. It would pay Weinstein’s alleged victims about $25 million. Under the proposed deal, Weinstein would not have to admit any wrongdoing or personally pay anything; the studio’s insurance companies would cover the cost.
Weinstein’s efforts to silence his accusers and thwart journalists who sought to expose his secrets included hiring Black Cube, an Israeli spy agency staffed by former Mossad agents. Asked one day as he left court why he hired that firm, Weinstein turned to a reporter and said: “For days like this.”
Michael Sisak and Tom Hays
The Associated Press
More to come.
The Associated Press