NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein abused his status as a Hollywood power broker to lure young women into violent sexual attacks, a New York prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday as the former film producer’s rape trial got underway.
Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast points at Harvey Weinstein during his sexual assault trial as accuser Mimi Haleyi appears on the screen as Judge James Burke presides at New York Criminal Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
“The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist,” Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said in her opening statement in a Manhattan courtroom. She characterized Weinstein, 67, as a “seasoned predator” and said his female accusers were “no match” for him.
Weinstein is accused of assaulting two women. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
The trial is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with allegations against powerful men in business and politics.
Hast’s opening remarks described Weinstein’s repeated promises to open doors in Hollywood for young women, then luring them alone to hotel rooms or private apartments where he would attack them. One female juror grimaced at the graphic descriptions.
Late in the evening on July 10, 2006, Weinstein brought to his loft apartment former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, who he had met at the Cannes Film Festival and promised work opportunities, according to Hast. A friendly conversation ended abruptly and Weinstein attacked her and forcibly performed oral sex on her, yanking out her tampon, according to Hast.
A large flat-screen TV in the court flashed images of victims or pictures meant to convey Weinstein’s power, including one of him with former President Bill Clinton.
Weinstein is charged with assaulting Haleyi and raping a woman in 2013 who Hast identified as Jessica Mann. Prosecutors plan to call other women to testify to show a pattern of predatory behavior. A similar legal strategy helped Pennsylvania prosecutors convict comedian Bill Cosby in 2018 of sexually assaulting a Temple University employee.
Hast also cautioned jurors that rape isn’t a “back alley” attack at the hands of a stranger. She promised to bring in an expert to explain that victims are often assaulted by someone they know and often do not report the crime. Victims even “reach back out to their attacker,” she said.
Her comments likely foreshadowed the defense strategy to portray the victims’ continued relations with Weinstein as inconsistent with someone who was violently assaulted.
One of Weinstein’s lawyers, Damon Cheronis, said on Tuesday he intended to tell jurors in his opening statement that Weinstein’s accusers sent him “dozens of loving emails” and “bragged” about their sexual relationships with him.
Legal experts said lawyers for Weinstein could try to show that the accusers engaged in consensual sexual activity in order to gain an edge in the entertainment industry.
Before Wednesday’s proceedings got underway, Weinstein exited a white sports utility vehicle with help from two members of his team, one carrying the walker that Weinstein has used for recent court appearances as he recovers from recent back surgery.
During the prosecution’s opening statements, Weinstein sat quietly at the defense table, occasionally sipping water from a clear plastic cup or writing on a legal pad.
Around 100 people were packed into the courtroom, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
Since 2017, more than 80 women including many famous actresses have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
Justice James Burke told potential jurors last week that they must decide Weinstein’s case based on the evidence and not make the trial “a referendum on the #MeToo movement.”
The trial began on Jan. 6 and could last about six more weeks.
The scene outside the court was relatively quiet. Recent demonstrations against sexual harassment prompted Weinstein’s legal team to make a failed bid to change the venue due to the “carnival-like atmosphere” at the courthouse.
Weinstein, who reshaped the independent film industry with critically acclaimed pictures such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Weinstein faces additional charges in California.
Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced on Jan. 6 that Weinstein had been charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in 2013.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Writing by Tom Hals; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis