Weinstein defense expert says memories can be distorted after the fact

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A psychology professor called by the defense as an expert witness at the New York rape trial of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein testified on Friday that people’s memories can become distorted after the fact.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein watches as professor Elizabeth Loftus is questioned by lawyer Diana Fabi Samson during Weinstein’s sexual assault trial at New York Criminal Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. February 7, 2020 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Professor Elizabeth Loftus, a human memory expert at the University of California, Irvine, told jurors that receiving misinformation about an event, trying to remember it in therapy and discussing it with law enforcement can all distort memory.

“I’ve seen a situation where people are motivated to want to try to remember more,” Loftus said, leading them to fill in “details that feel like memories.”

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to raping former aspiring actress Jessica Mann and to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi. Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

The former producer, known for films including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied any non-consensual sex.

His trial is widely seen as a milestone in the #MeToo movement in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.

Although Loftus did not testify about specifics in Weinstein’s case, she told jurors during the second day of the defense case that strong emotions around a memory were no guarantee of its accuracy.

“There are several studies that show false memories can be expressed with a great deal of emotion,” she said.

On Thursday, prosecutors rested their case during which jurors heard testimony from six accusers.

Mann testified that Weinstein raped her in 2013 in the course of a years-long relationship and Haleyi said that he forced oral sex on her in his Manhattan home in 2006.

Actress Annabella Sciorra testified that Weinstein violently raped her in her own home in 1993 or 1994. Though that accusation is too old to be charged as a separate crime, prosecutors hope it will show Weinstein is a repeat sexual predator, the charge that could put him in prison for life.

Three other women who are not part of the criminal charges, Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff and Lauren Young, testified that Weinstein sexually assaulted them. Prosecutors presented their testimony as evidence of Weinstein’s intent.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Howard Goller

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