Weinstein rape, sex assault trial set for opening arguments

Wednesday January 22 2020

In this file photo Harvey Weinstein enters

In this file photo Harvey Weinstein enters Manhattan Criminal Court, on January 16, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) 

By AFP

Opening arguments in Harvey Weinstein's rape and sexual assault trial are due Wednesday, with the defense expected to detail "loving" emails between the once-mighty movie producer and his accusers.

Weinstein, 67, faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault charges related to two women in the high-profile New York proceedings seen as key to the #MeToo movement.

Prosecutors will argue that the former Miramax Films boss was a sexual predator who made a career out of abusing women who were trying to make their way in Hollywood.

Weinstein's attorneys will try to convince the court that his two accusers engaged in consensual relationships with the defendant and only claimed the incidents were forced years later.

Lawyer Damon Cheronis said Tuesday the defense had "dozens" of emails sent by the women to Weinstein which undermine claims of non-consensual sex, according to journalists in the courtroom. 

Justice James Burke ruled that the defense team could cite these emails in its opening arguments, dealing a blow to the prosecution which had objected to their inclusion.

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"What we will counter with are their own words, their own words where they described loving relationships," Cheronis told the court, US media reported.

Weinstein is accused of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in his New York apartment in July 2006.

An unidentified woman says Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013.

The prosecution will call four other accusers to the stand as it tries to convince the 12-member jury that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.

- 'Brutal cross-examination' -

Supporting witnesses will include "The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein raped her in the winter of 1993-94.

The identity of three other alleged victims, including one who says she was raped by Weinstein in California in 2013, are unknown.

High-profile women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, who represents two women involved in the trial, has said the accusers can expect a "brutal cross-examination."

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon is leading the prosecution, while Chicago lawyer Donna Rotunno, who has defended numerous men accused of sexual assault, leads the defense.

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since claims against him ignited the #MeToo movement in October 2017. 

But many of the alleged crimes fall outside the timeframe for bringing charges.

Seven men and five women make up the jury in the trial which is expected to run until March 6.

The defense was successful in keeping young white women --  viewed as sympathetic to the #MeToo movement -- off the jury, following an acrimonious two-week selection process.

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