2020-01-05 16:22:44 UTC
By Daniel Arkin
Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie mogul whose alleged pattern of sexual
misconduct helped power the #MeToo reckoning and rocked the entertainment
industry, is scheduled to stand trial on rape charges in New York this week.
The criminal trial, expected to begin with jury selection Tuesday, comes more
than two years after The New York Times and The New Yorker published
investigative reports detailing several allegations of sexual harassment,
assault and rape.
In all, more than 80 women have accused the producer of sexual misconduct going
back decades. Weinstein, 67, who in recent months has been spotted at New York
City nightclubs, has denied all accusations of unlawful, nonconsensual sex.
The trial begins almost a month after Weinstein and the board of his bankrupt
film studio, The Weinstein Company, reached a tentative $25 million settlement
with dozens of women who have accused him of preying on them. The news of the
settlement devastated some of his alleged victims.
In a joint statement released Friday, 25 women who have accused Weinstein of
sexual misconduct including actresses Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette said
"the world will be watching as Harvey Weinstein walks into court to stand trial
for a fraction of the egregious crimes he has committed."
"This trial is critical to show that predators everywhere will be held
accountable and that speaking up can bring about real change," the statement
said. "We refuse to be silenced and will continue to speak out until this
unrepentant abuser is brought to justice."
The court case in New York focuses on felony charges that Weinstein raped a
woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on
another woman in 2006. Weinstein, who is currently free on bail, has pleaded not
guilty to those charges.
The top charge, felony predatory sexual assault, carries a maximum sentence of
life in prison. He faces four counts of that charge, along with one count of
criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape
and third-degree rape.
"It's important to note that predatory sexual assault is viewed almost as
seriously as murder. In the state of New York, it's one of the most serious
felonies you can commit," NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
Donna Rotunno, one of Weinstein's lawyers, said at a news conference in August
that her client had been "railroaded," adding she had proof the relevant sexual
activity was consensual.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was criticized
for declining to pursue criminal charges against Weinstein when he was accused
of groping an Italian model in 2015, is prosecuting this case.
The trial is expected to run for roughly eight weeks, according to a
spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System.
Weinstein will be tried in the courtroom of the Honorable James Burke, a former
prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office who was appointed to the
bench by then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Burke has presided over various pretrial hearings and motions in the case,
including a ruling denying Weinstein's bid to toss the most serious charges,
derailing the ex-mogul's attempts to sharply limit the scope of the trial.
The key witness
Annabella Sciorra, an actress best known for her role in "The Sopranos," is
expected to testify. Sciorra, who first shared her story with The New Yorker's
Ronan Farrow, has accused Weinstein of bursting into her Manhattan apartment and
raping her in the early 1990s.
In late November, Burke ruled that while Sciorra's rape allegation was too old
to support a formal charge, also known as falling outside the statute of
limitations, prosecutors could use it to bolster their case that Weinstein
exhibited a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.
"It's not that celebrities are any better at being witnesses than regular people
are, but jurors sure are interested in what celebrities have to say," Cevallos
said of Sciorra's expected testimony.
Those watching in the courtroom will most likely include other women who have
accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault, and potentially public
figures affiliated with the Time's Up group.
"I think this trial could become a very somber parade of witnesses and victims,
a global airing of many of the bad things Harvey Weinstein is accused of,"
Cevallos said prospective jurors will likely be closely vetted by both the
prosecution and the defense, and the selection process could take weeks as both
sides try to ferret out biases and potential conflicts of interest.
"If you've been tweeting about the #MeToo movement or Weinstein, that can be
looked up easily," Cevallos said, adding that both sides in the case will likely
question prospective jurors about their general views on sexual abuse and
celebrity culture, among other relevant subjects.
Rotunno told Reuters the defense team will be scrutinizing potential jurors'
social media posts, adding she was confident that could detect biased
"Obviously, this case has a lot more notoriety and press involved with it, but
that's a concern in any case," Rotunno said. "Once 12 people are put on that
bench and they realize the gravity of it, they really want to be fair."