In a few weeks, Harvey Weinstein could be handed down a life sentence.
As his rape trial began in earnest on Wednesday, it remained an open question how the former Hollywood mogul would answer for the kind of accusations that kicked off the Me Too movement more than two years ago. Prosecutors have spent almost the same amount of time building a case against Weinstein in New York state, where he currently stands accused of multiple counts of rape.
Opening statements from both sides followed a weekslong jury selection process that was, at times, quite tense. Almost right from the start, Weinstein sparked anger from New York State Supreme Court Judge James Burke for appearing in court with four cellphones in violation of a no-phone rule that applied to everyone in the room. Despite Weinstein’s attorney’s best efforts to get a new judge and a new venue by claiming that the current ones were hopelessly biased, the trial will proceed as planned in lower Manhattan.
Yet Weinstein was optimistic before the first day of arguments.
“I have good lawyers,” he bragged as he headed into the room with physical assistance from his team.
In court, prosecutors began giving a broad overview of the sexual misconduct accusations that spanned Weinstein’s decadeslong career, along with graphic details of the specific allegations that brought him there. Underscoring the weight of the allegations, prosecutor Meghan Hast told jurors that Weinstein was “not just a titan in Hollywood ― he was a rapist.”
“It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable,” Hast said.
Here’s what you need to know about the case.
What is Weinstein accused of doing?
The case centers on two women and two separate incidents.
On March 18, 2013, aspiring actress Jessica Mann says Weinstein trapped her at a DoubleTree hotel in midtown Manhattan and raped her. Court documents state that Weinstein held her “physically against her will in a room and engaged in sexual intercourse with [her] by forcible compulsion,” adding that “at the time of the incident [she] had clearly expressed her lack of consent to the act.” A needle she found in the bathroom at the hotel led her to believe Weinstein had injected himself to get an erection.
Mann was brand-new to the film industry when she met Weinstein. During an initial meeting, he requested a massage, which she provided so that “he wouldn’t have to touch her,” Hast said. After that, Weinstein dangled movie leads, and Mann had a brief and allegedly violent sexual relationship with him that included the incident at the hotel.
Mann says she was raped another time after she told Weinstein she had a boyfriend. The executive physically forced her into a bedroom, “all the while screaming at her that he owed her one more time,” Hast said, adding that he “ripped her jeans off so forcefully that it left scratch marks.”
On July 10, 2006, former production assistant Mimi Haleyi says Weinstein forced her to accept oral sex at his Manhattan townhouse. She had worked on a TV series produced by The Weinstein Company and was eager to have a professional relationship with Weinstein due to his status in the industry. The alleged assault came after months of romantic advances by Weinstein that she declined; at one point, Haleyi says, Weinstein barged into her apartment and begged her to go on a trip to Paris with him.
Haleyi read a statement about the assault during an October 2017 press conference alongside her attorney, Gloria Allred, who also represents the anonymous victim. After Weinstein returned from Paris, Haleyi said, he invited her to his home on the pretense of business but quickly overpowered her physically.
“He then orally forced himself on me, while I was on my period. He even pulled my tampon out. I was mortified. I was in disbelief and disgusted,” she said at the time. She added: “I remember Harvey rolling over and saying, ‘Don’t you feel like we’re so much closer now?’”
What are the charges against Weinstein?
Weinstein faces five felony counts, including two counts of predatory sexual assault, which each carry a maximum penalty of life behind bars.
One other felony count, relating to a 2004 incident that involved singer Lucia Evans, was dismissed in October 2018 because of a procedural mistake by prosecutors.
How does Weinstein respond?
Weinstein’s team argues that all of his sexual activity was consensual, and they are expected to paint his accusers as attention-seeking liars.
One of his attorneys, Donna Rotunno, began doing so late last year when she told ABC News, “If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t go to the hotel room.” Rotunno faced more accusations of victim-blaming earlier this month when she told Vanity Fair that she felt “women may rue the day that all of this started when no one asks them out on a date, and no one holds the door open for them, and no one tells them that they look nice.”
In his opening statement, defense attorney Damon Cheronis told jurors they would be shown “two realities,” holding that the sexual activity in question was transactional on each side.
Burke also allowed the defense to describe ― but not show ― “dozens of loving emails” from his accusers in an attempt to “undercut” prosecutors’ arguments, according to Cheronis. Advocates for sexual assault survivors, however, say it is not uncommon for women to stay in friendly contact with an abuser, or to struggle to break off contact, particularly when the abuser holds a position of power over them. A large majority, around 80%, of women who have been assaulted say they knew their attacker beforehand.
What does the jury look like?
For starters, Gigi Hadid is not a juror. (Yes, she was called.)
The jury consists of seven men, six of whom are white and one of whom is Black, along with five women, two of whom are white and three of whom are women of color. There are also three alternate jurors: two women and one man.
The lack of white women was a point of contention during jury selection, with lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi accusing the defense of trying to “systematically” eliminate every one.
Jurors were not dismissed if they’d ever heard the name Harvey Weinstein, but Burke asked them to do some soul-searching and ask themselves whether they could remain fair arbiters of justice.
Who’s going to be called to testify?
Good question! A full list has not yet been made public.
Earlier this month, actors Salma Hayek and Charlize Theron were named among 90 potential witnesses who could be called to the stand or mentioned in testimony.
The judge previously cleared the way for prosecutors to use an accusation from “Sopranos” actor Annabella Sciorra to bolster their Class A felony charges, considering that the accusation itself is too old to be prosecuted under state law. It is not clear whether Sciorra will testify. She alleged in a New Yorker article that, around 1993 or 1994, Weinstein chased her around her Manhattan apartment and forcibly performed oral sex on her.
Testimony from three other women is expected to be used to establish a criminal pattern; the unnamed women say they were assaulted by Weinstein in 2004, 2005 and 2013, respectively.
Will Weinstein himself take the stand?
Is he being held in jail?
No. After his arrest on May 25, 2018, Weinstein was released on $1 million bail that was upped to $2 million late last year over accusations that he tampered with his electronic ankle monitor.
He isn’t supposed to leave New York or Connecticut, though. According to The New York Times, Weinstein has spent the bulk of the months leading up to his trial holed up in a rented Manhattan apartment, “reading books, watching streamed TV shows, Googling himself and nervously obsessing about the outcome of his trial.”
What’s up with the walker?
Weinstein’s attorneys say he needed it after having back surgery for injuries sustained in a car crash in August 2019. Inside Edition cast doubt on that story with a December report claiming first responders at the scene of the accident did not find anyone injured there; Weinstein said the pain had grown worse over time.
How long is this all going to last?
After jury selection, which took up two weeks, the trial is supposed to last around six weeks.
However, prosecutors in Los Angeles announced charges of their own against Weinstein earlier this month, so there’s a chance we may get to watch this all over again on the opposite coast.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.