NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer told a Manhattan jury on Wednesday his client was not a “seasoned sexual predator,” as prosecutors claimed, and said the defense had emails and texts that would show the former Hollywood producer and his accusers engaged in consensual sex.
The lawyer, Damon Cheronis, said in his opening statement at Weinstein’s rape trial that the evidence would show interactions that were once consensual were relabeled as attacks.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women, Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann. 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.
Prosecutors delivered their opening statements earlier in the day to a jury of seven men and five women.
“The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist,” said Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast, as Weinstein looked on from the defense table.
She described in detail Weinstein’s alleged violent attacks on former production assistant Haleyi and actress Mann, as well as on actress Annabella Sciorra. Sciorra’s allegation is too old to be the basis of a separate charge, but is being used by prosecutors to establish a pattern of serious sex crimes against multiple women.
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 accounts, which included Hast recounting Weinstein forcibly performing oral sex on Haleyi, yanking out her tampon.
Cheronis countered that the accusers and Weinstein had friendly relations after the alleged attacks.
Haleyi reached out to Weinstein multiple times after the alleged assault, including once to “reminisce” about their time together in 2006, Cheronis said.
The lawyer said Mann repeatedly sought out Weinstein’s company and told the producer she would always love him.
“You’re going to see that after Jessica Mann claims Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her, she wanted to introduce him to her mother,” Cheronis said.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
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.
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.”
Prosecutors plan to call several women to testify about misconduct by Weinstein 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 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 do not report the crime. Victims even “reach back out to their attacker,” she said.
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.
The trial began on Jan. 6 and could last about six more weeks.
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