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Sexual predator Harvey Weinstein abused power to rape vulnerable aspiring actresses

AFP
Published Jan 23, 2020, 11:03 am IST
Updated Jan 23, 2020, 11:03 am IST
Weinstein, 67, faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault charges related to Haleyi and Mann in the New York proceedings
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon arrives with Lance Maerov at New York City Criminal Court on Wednesday. AFP photo
 Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon arrives with Lance Maerov at New York City Criminal Court on Wednesday. AFP photo

New York: Harvey Weinstein is a "seasoned" sexual predator and rapist who abused his power as a movie-producing titan to prey on vulnerable aspiring actresses, prosecutors said Wednesday as his trial got into full swing.

His defense team hit back, saying the fallen film producer engaged in consensual relationships with his accusers, including a "loving one" where the woman referred to Weinstein as "her casual boyfriend."

 

That woman, who says Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in 2013, was identified for the first time in court as actress Jessica Mann, who had previously remained anonymous.

Weinstein, wearing a dark suit, sat shaking his head and scribbling notes for his lawyers as New York Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast painted a picture of a 300-pound (140 kilogram) bully who violently raped, humiliated and manipulated several women, leaving them traumatized for years.

"It will be clear throughout this trial that the defendant knew he was preying on the naive and the defenseless," Hast told the court in the prosecution's opening arguments, saying many of his victims had come from broken homes.

 

"They didn't know they were being lured in on false pretenses. They thought they had got their big break. He was the old lady in the gingerbread house luring the kids."

Defense attorney Damon Cheronis team said it was "untrue" and "quite the contrary" to call Weinstein a predator as the "Pulp Fiction" producers' team started laying out their opening arguments.

"You will see the case unravel for the state, and it must, based on the evidence," he told the New York state court.

Wednesday's hearing started with Judge James Burke reminding the 12-member jury and six alternates that they must decide their verdict based on the evidence they hear in court and must not discuss the trial with anyone outside.

 

Hast then laid out the prosecution's case in a statement lasting around an hour and a half.

She said Weinstein raped "The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra in the winter of 1993-94 after a pursuit which included him introducing her to the drug valium.

"He left her emotionally and physically destroyed and passed out on the floor," the prosecutor told a packed courtroom with more than 100 journalists in attendance.

The attorney said Weinstein left former production assistant Mimi Haleyi lying "motionless like a dead fish" after forcibly assaulting her in his New York apartment in July 2006.

 

And Hast accused Weinstein of treating actress Jessica Mann like a "rag doll" when he raped her in her hotel room in March 2013.

Weinstein, 67, faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault charges related to Haleyi and Mann in the New York proceedings seen as key to the #MeToo movement.

The trial, expected to run until March 6, will also hear evidence from Sciorra and three other accusers who were named for the first time in court Wednesday.

Cheronis said the jury would see hundreds of emails and other correspondence between Mann and Weinstein which would show they were "actually in a loving relationship."

 

A year after the alleged assault took place, Mann wrote "Miss you big guy!" in an email to Weinstein and another which said "Thank you for your unfailing support and kindness," Cheronis said.

In February 2017, she wrote to Weinstein: "I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call," Cheronis told the court.

"Members of the jury, that is not how you talk about predators, that is not how you talk about your abusers," he said.

Cheronis argued that Weinstein's accusers changed their attitude towards him as the #MeToo movement gathered steam in 2017.

 

"We will show that the truth has changed since 2013 and the truth can't change. There is only one truth," he said.

Ignited #MeToo movement

The prosecution laid out the previously unknown allegations of three women who will take the stand as they try to convince the seven men and five women on the jury that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.

One alleges that Weinstein raped her. Another says he grabbed her vagina and the third says he masturbated in front of her.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon is leading the prosecution, while Chicago lawyer Donna Rotunno, who has defended numerous men accused of sexual assault, leads the defense.

 

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since claims against him ignited the #MeToo movement in October 2017.

But many of the alleged crimes fall outside the timeframe for bringing charges.

The defense was successful in keeping young white women -- viewed as sympathetic to the #MeToo movement -- off the jury, following an acrimonious two-week selection process.

Arriving at court, Weinstein walked unsteadily up a few steps but without the walking frame he has used for recent proceedings.

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