Jury begins deliberating in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial

Disgraced movie producer’s lawyer warned over article she published at weekend

Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Criminal Court for his sexual assault trial in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah
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Jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial started deliberating on Tuesday, in the landmark #MeToo case that could put the once-powerful Hollywood mogul in jail for the rest of his life.

The panel of seven men and five women were instructed by the judge before going behind closed doors to consider charges.

Mr Weinstein is accused of raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman, TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.

Jurors will also examining Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra's account of a mid-1990s rape in considering charges claiming the disgraced film producer is sexual predator.

Ms Sciorra's case is too old to be pursued on its own because of the statute of limitations in effect at the time.

Prosecutors built their case around graphic, often-harrowing testimony from the women, along with three other accusers.

The three were not part of the criminal case but were allowed to take the witness stand because they say Mr Weinstein used the same tactics on them.

His lawyers contend the acts were consensual. They focused on friendly, flirtatious emails some of the women sent to him and further meetings some had with him after the alleged assaults.

A torrent of allegations against Mr Weinstein in October 2017 spawned the #MeToo movement.

His trial is seen as a watershed moment for the cause, but Judge James Burke warned the jurors that it was “not a referendum on the #MeToo movement".

Mr Weinstein's lawyer, Donna Rotunno, sent a similar message in a Newsweek essay at the weekend, drawing complaints from a prosecutor who said she appeared to be trying to influence the jury.

Ms Rotunno wrote that Mr Weinstein’s jurors “have an obligation to themselves and their country, to base their verdict solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom.

She said they should ignore critical news stories, unflattering courtroom sketches or other outside influences.

In court on Tuesday, Ms Rotunno said she was writing “about the jury system as a whole” and was not speaking to the jury in Mr Weinstein’s case.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said her essay was “100 per cent inappropriate".

Ms Illuzzi-Orbon asked Mr Burke to instruct the jury to ignore the piece and revoke Mr Weinstein’s bail and send him to jail because, she said, it could not have been done without his permission.

Mr Burke denied the prosecution’s request, but told Mr Weinstein: “I would caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.”

Two weeks ago, Ms Rotunno was criticised in court and on social media for an interview she gave to The New York Times podcast The Daily in which she blamed victims for being sexual assaulted.

“That was taped a long time ago,” she said after Illuzzi-Orbon questioned the timing of the interview, which was aired on February 7.

The Times said later that the interview was recorded on January 28, five days after opening statements and the start of testimony.

In her closing argument on Friday, Ms Illuzzi-Orbon said that Mr Weinstein treated the women who accused him as if they were “complete disposables”, and made them feel ashamed even though he was the one at fault.

“What he wants to do is he wants to get them in a situation where they feel stupid," she told jurors. "If you feel stupid and belittled, belittled, stupid people do not complain."

But Ms Rotunno said in her closing argument last week that the prosecutors had “created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility".

She suggested that, according to prosecutors, Mr Weinstein’s accusers “are not even responsible for sitting at their computers sending emails to someone across the country".

Haleyi, a former “Project Runway” production assistant, testified that he pushed her on to a bed and sexually assaulted her, undeterred by her kicks and pleas of, “No, please don’t do this, I don’t want it.”

The woman who says Mr Weinstein raped her in 2013 sobbed in court as she described how she sent him flattering emails and kept seeing him after the alleged rape because, “I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat.”

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