NEW YORK – Harvey Weinstein arrived at a Manhattan courthouse Monday for the opening of his sex crimes trial as his lawyers and prosecutors prepared to begin selecting a jury in the first celebrity #MeToo case to open in a criminal court.
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Using a walker after back surgery two weeks ago, Weinstein, 67, was escorted into the courthouse surrounded by his security team and his lawyers, including lead defense attorney Donna Rotunno. He was met by a crowd of reporters and cameras as he arrived for what many consider a historic trial.
He wore a blackish-gray suit and sported some light gray stubble. In the courtroom, he talked to his lawyers flanking him at the defense table. When the proceeding before Judge James Burke began, he walked to the front of the courtroom to say his name. He was almost exaggeratedly hunched over and walked slowly.
Monday’s proceedings adjourned before noon after arguments over pretrial publicity and discussions about jury selection, scheduled to begin Tuesday. Weinstein left the courtroom, mostly expressionless and once again hunched over his walker.
The two sides also argued about whether Weinstein’s legal team will be permitted to call to the stand the New York Police detective who was taken off the case in the early stages after it emerged he withheld evidence favorable to the defense. Prosecutors had to drop one of the original charges involving a third accuser, Lucia Evans, after conflicting testimony about her story was disclosed.
According to spokesmen for the prosecution and the defense, Burke ruled that defense lawyers may not call Det. Nicholas DiGaudio to the stand but that his ruling is conditional. They will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses about their interactions with him, Burke said, and if they say something that requires him to confirm, deny or explain those interactions, he may be called to testify.
Not long after court was adjourned for the day came word that Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced he was charged Monday with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents in hotel rooms over two days in 2013 in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Lacey’s office has been investigating allegations against Weinstein for two years and currently has eight cases under review. He was charged with four felony counts, including forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Rosanna Arquette, one of Weinstein’s many accusers who is not testifying, was spotted before the proceeding began waiting outside the courthouse, dressed in a red coat and hat. She and other similarly dressed accusers who call themselves the “Silence Breakers” held a news conference at a nearby park to denounce Weinstein, the man they repeatedly called a “serial rapist.”.
“He looked like a very broken man,” Arquette said outside the courthouse. “Unfortunately, so many people feel sorry for the rapist.”.
Rose McGowan, one of the key accusers who set off the media exposés in 2017 that sparked a surge of allegations against Weinstein, said she and others were wearing red because “this is us taking our power back.”.
Weinstein and other accused men “will have an asterisk next to their name for all time for what they’ve done,” she said. “We will out them all. If (Weinstein) is convicted, then people will abandon him finally.”.
The Silence Breakers include dozens of Weinstein accusers, most of them not famous actresses, but none of them are testifying in the trial. Only two women’s allegations are charged against Weinstein; four others will testify about uncharged alleged crimes.
“For every women in the trial, there are 98 more, there are 1,000 more,” McGowan said. “We won’t have our day in court, but hopefully (those testifying) will, and their victory will be our victory.”.
Outside the courthouse, it was gloomy and lightly snowing, but many journalists bundled up and braved the weather, with some showing up as early as 4:30 a.M.
The first day was taken up with disposing of outstanding pretrial issues. Weinstein is set to be present throughout jury selection.
The major question about jury selection will be whether it proceeds quickly or slowly, given the high-profile nature of this trial: The fallen movie mogul faces five charges, including rape and predatory sexual assault, involving encounters with two women, in 2013 and 2006.
Weinstein, who was first charged in May 2018, has pleaded not guilty and has been free on $1 million bail (recently increased to $5 million). He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
If he is convicted, he could get a life sentence.
Weinstein’s defense team has argued since the case began that it is weak and that this will become clear during aggressive cross-examination of accusers. On the “Today” show early Monday, Rotunno said the defense will not argue that Weinstein didn’t make mistakes in his relations with women.
But “sexual misconduct is different than sexual assault,” she said. “My certainty (that Weinstein isn’t guilty of rape) comes from the evidence that I look at and the communications that I see that Harvey has had with women.”.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi and Rotunno exchanged sharp remarks before Judge Burke as Monday’s proceedings began. Illuzzi accused Rotunno of disparaging the accusers who will be testifying in an interview she did with CNN over the weekend.
“Enough harm has been done to these witnesses already,” Illuzzi said, accusing Rotunno of making “degrading, humiliating” statements about them, including that one is an actress and will do just fine on the witness stand. “That’s not the way this case should be tried,” Illuzzi said.
Illuzzi “stands in this courtroom and has the nerve to call my client a predator,” Rotunno responded. “(She) would like this case to be over before it’s even began. … It’s abominable that she would say I’ve done anything but represent my client.”.
Burke said Weinstein and his team should “leave the witnesses alone. Don’t talk about them in any capacity.”.
The world is watching, but no one more closely than scores of Weinstein accusers who hope prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and six accusing witnesses will persuade a jury that Weinstein is guilty.
Weinstein is the first target of the #MeToo movement, accused by more than 80 women, including A-list stars, of being a serial sexual harasser and predator over decades as a feared and famed Hollywood producer and power broker.
His trial is the first celebrity #MeToo case to open in a criminal court since the movement surged in October 2017 in the aftermath of media exposés about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct.
His trial will focus not only on the five charges against him but also on “prior bad acts” stemming from allegations by other accusers. As a result, there will be more accusers (four) testifying against him about uncharged alleged crimes than accusers (two) testifying about charged alleged crimes.
Testimony from accusers whose allegations are not charged are intended to help prosecutors establish a pattern of predatory sexual misconduct by Weinstein, which could aid in persuading a jury to convict him and also get him a stiffer sentence if he is convicted.
The two women (as yet unnamed) whose accusations form the basis of the five charges are expected to take the stand. One woman says Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013. The other woman says Weinstein performed a forcible sex act on her in his Manhattan apartment in 2006.
Also expected to testify is former “The Sopranos” star Annabella Sciorra, 59, who says Weinstein raped her in her Manhattan apartment in the winter of 1993-94. Her testimony is intended to help prosecutors meet their burden of proving “predatory” sexual assault – meaning that at least two women were assaulted by the defendant in the past.
Three other women also are expected to take the stand as Molineux witnesses, meaning they will testify about what they say Weinstein did to them.
As in all American criminal trials, Weinstein is innocent until proven guilty and does not have to take the stand in his defense. The prosecution has the sole burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the jury’s verdict must be unanimous. The trial is expected to last up to two months.
Jury pre-selection starts Tuesday, with a targeted jury selection date of Jan. 14.
“We’re going to we’re conduct very garden-variety jury selection,” Burke said after a lengthy huddle with prosecution and defense lawyers. “(We’ll select) those jurors who believe they can be fair and impartial, and can abide by the six to eight-week schedule for this jury, which is a lot to ask.”.
Jury-selection expert Alan Tuerkheimer says picking a jury could take time if the pool of prospective jurors from the media capital of the world has been heavily influenced by the pretrial publicity about the case and about the #MeToo movement.
Both sides should be worried about a “stealth juror” getting on the jury as a means to exploit the attention that comes with a high-profile trial, Tuerkheimer says.
“This juror is motivated by a hidden agenda to get picked in order to influence the outcome,” he says. “Some potential jurors have a selfish motive … And believe that after being picked they will cash in by writing a book, giving interviews or some other form of ‘tell all.’ “.