'A new day': Harvey Weinstein convicted, led away in cuffs
NEW YORK-The Associated Press
Film producer Harvey Weinstein is handcuffed after his guilty verdict in his sexual assault trial at the New York Criminal Court in New York City, New York, U.S., on February 24, 2020, in this courtroom sketch. (REUTERS Photo)
Former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault against two women and led off to prison in handcuffs on Feb. 25 in what his foes hailed as a landmark moment for the legal system and a long-overdue reckoning for the man vilified as the biggest monster of the #MeToo era.
The 67-year-old Weinstein had a look of resignation on his face as he heard the verdict: guilty on two charges, not guilty on a set of more serious ones.
While it was not the across-the-board victory prosecutors and his accusers had hoped for, it could put the stooped and feeble-looking Weinstein behind bars for the rest of his life. The charges carry up to 29 years in prison.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. saluted the women who came forward against the once-feared studio boss, saying they "changed the course of history in the fight against sexual violence" and "pulled our justice system into the 21st century."
"This is the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America, I believe, and it is a new day. It is a new day because Harvey Weinstein has finally been held accountable for crimes he committed," Vance said.
Weinstein's lawyers said they will appeal.
"Harvey is unbelievably strong. He took it like a man," defense attorney Donna Rotunno said. "He knows that we will continue to fight for him, and we know that this is not over." Another of his lawyers, Arthur Aidala, quoted Weinstein as telling as his legal team:: "I'm innocent. I'm innocent. I'm innocent. How could this happen in America?"
The jury of seven men and five women took five days to find Weinstein guilty of raping an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her.
He was acquitted on the most serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, each carrying up to life in prison. Both of those counts hinged on the testimony of "Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein barged into her apartment, raped her and forcibly performed oral sex on her in the mid-1990s.
Judge James Burke ordered Weinstein taken to jail immediately. Court officers handcuffed Weinstein and put their arms under his, leading him unsteadily out of the courtroom via a side door without the use of the walker he relied on for much of the trial. He was later taken from the courthouse in an ambulance, strapped to a stretcher in his suit, and taken to a locked unit at Bellevue Hospital.
The judge said he would ask that Weinstein, who had been free on bail since his arrest nearly two years ago, be held in the infirmary at the city's Rikers Island jail complex after his lawyers said he needs medical attention following unsuccessful back surgery.
Rotunno said in an appearance on Fox News that Weinstein was initially headed to the jail, but was diverted to Bellevue to be checked out for heart palpitations and high blood pressure. "He's O.K," she added.
Sentencing was set for March 11. The sexual assault charge carries up to 25 years in prison, while the third-degree rape count is punishable by up to four years. (The jury acquitted Weinstein of first-degree rape, which requires the use of force or the threat of it, and found him guilty of third-degree rape, which involves a lack of consent.)
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 excuses from Weinstein about how the Hollywood casting couch works. In addition to the three women he was charged with attacking, three more who said they were assaulted by Weinstein testified in an effort by prosecutors to show a pattern of brutish behavior.
Whispers about Weinstein circulated in Hollywood for years before they finally 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 trial was the first criminal case to arise from the barrage of allegations against Weinstein from more than 90 women, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, Uma Thurman and Mira Sorvino. Most of those cases were too old to prosecute.
While prosecutors and other Weinstein foes were disappointed by his acquittal on the most serious charges, they exulted over the guilty verdicts.
"The era of impunity for powerful men who rape people is over," Sorvino said, breaking down in tears on a conference call of Weinstein's former accusers. "He will rot in jail as he deserves."
Judd, who accused Weinstein of damaging her career by spreading lies about her after she rejected his advances, tweeted: "For the women who testified in this case, and walked through traumatic hell, you did a public service to girls and women everywhere, thank you."
While Weinstein did not testify, his lawyers contended that any sexual contact was consensual and that his accusers went to bed with him to get ahead in Hollywood. The defense seized on the fact that the two women he was convicted of attacking had sex with him and sent him warm and even flirty emails well after he supposedly attacked them.
In the end, that argument didn't seem to gain any traction. Instead, the jury had trouble with Sciorra's allegations. Four days into deliberations, the jurors sent out a note indicating they were deadlocked on the two predatory sexual assault counts but had reached a unanimous verdict on the others. The judge told them to keep on deliberating.
After the verdict, jury foreman Bernard Cody was asked what the deliberations were like for him personally and responded: "Devastating." He did not elaborate.
Sciorra said in statement: "While we hope for continued righteous outcomes that bring absolute justice, we can never regret breaking the silence. For in speaking truth to power we pave the way for a more just culture, free of the scourge of violence against women."
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.
The phenomenally successful movie executive helped bring to the screen such Oscar winners as "Good Will Hunting," "Pulp Fiction," "The King's Speech," "Silver Linings Playbook" 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 in early January, authorities allege he raped one woman and sexually assaulted another on back-to-back nights during Oscars week in 2013.
During the trial, Weinstein regularly trudged into the courthouse stooped and unshaven, using his walker a far cry from the way he was depicted in court as a burly "Jekyll-and-Hyde" figure whose eyes seemed to turn black with menace when his anger flared.
"If he heard the word `no,' it was like a trigger for him," his rape accuser testified. One woman 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 Haleyi testified that she had sex with him two weeks after she was supposedly attacked, while the rape accuser whose name was withheld said she had a sexual encounter with him more than three years afterward.
The rape accuser admitted sending Weinstein emails saying "Miss you big guy" and "I love you, always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call." Under fierce cross-examination from Weinstein's lawyers, she explained that she was afraid of the movie executive's unpredictable anger and "I wanted him to believe I wasn't a threat."
To blunt that line of questioning, prosecutors called as a witness a forensic psychiatrist who said that most sexual assault victims struggle to comprehend what happened to them and continue to have contact with their attackers.
During closing arguments, Rotunno charged that Weinstein had become "the target of a cause and a movement" #MeToo and asked the jury to ignore "outside forces." 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.
Weinstein's lawyers repeatedly raised objections during the case that could form the basis of an appeal. Among other things, the defense complained that the Los Angeles charges were timed to influence jury selection, and they unsuccessfully opposed the seating of a juror who wrote a novel involving predatory older men.
Over the years, Weinstein managed to silence many accusers with payoffs, nondisclosure agreements and the constant fear that he could crush their careers if they spoke out. He also employed an army of attorneys, publicists and private investigators to thwart journalists and suppress news stories about his behavior.
Weinstein was finally arrested 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's studio, 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 accusers about $25 million, but he would not have to admit any wrongdoing or personally pay anything; the studio's insurance would cover the cost.