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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Five key takeaways from the Weinstein verdict

The jurors acquitted Harvey Weinstein of both predatory assault charges, the most serious counts, with each carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison.

By: New York Times | New York | Published: February 25, 2020 11:01:20 am
harvey weinstein guilty The jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty of two counts, criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. (Desiree Rios/The New York Times)

Written by Alan Feuer

It may have been a split decision, and Harvey Weinstein may have been acquitted of the most serious charges in the case. But the stunned expression on his face after the jury’s verdict came in and he was placed in handcuffs Monday made clear that it was a devastating blow.

On the other side, Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, could take pride in even a partial win against Weinstein after coming under heavy criticism for declining to prosecute the once-powerful producer at an earlier opportunity.

Weinstein was convicted on two of five charges — first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape — and acquitted on the others, including first-degree rape and predatory sexual assault. Such divided verdicts are not uncommon.

Weinstein, 67, faces a minimum of five years in prison when he is sentenced by Justice James M. Burke, of state Supreme Court in Manhattan, at a hearing set for March 11. Burke could sentence Weinstein to up to 29 years in prison, if he hands down the maximum sentence on the two guilty counts and orders the terms to be served consecutively.

Here are a few takeaways about Monday’s verdict.

— The jurors fully believed the prosecution’s first main accuser, Miriam Haley.

When Haley, a former production assistant on the television show “Project Runway,” testified in January, she told a harrowing story about how Weinstein had dragged her toward the bedroom of his Lower Manhattan loft after she went there to meet with him one night in July 2006. She said that she tried to avoid his advances by saying that she was menstruating, but that Weinstein had held her down and forcibly performed oral sex.

Harvey Weinstein court A jury convicted the Hollywood mogul of rape and sexual assault. The jury found him not guilty of the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault, which could have resulted in a life sentence.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The jury’s decision to convict Weinstein of first-degree criminal sexual act based on this account was significant because Haley’s testimony was far from ideal. She acknowledged that she had stayed in touch with Weinstein after that night and that she had gone to see him at the TriBeCa Grand Hotel two weeks later and had wound up having sex with him.

Under cross-examination, Haley said that even though she was sobbing during the second sexual encounter, she “didn’t physically resist.”

— The split decisions on the two rape charges may have hinged on the question of physical force.

Jessica Mann, who was once an aspiring actress, told the jury an equally complicated story. During her testimony, she described in graphic detail how after injecting his penis with an erection medication, Weinstein cornered her in the bathroom of a Manhattan hotel room and raped her.

Like Haley, Mann acknowledged that she had kept in touch with Weinstein after the assault she described and also had consensual sex with him.

The jurors convicted Weinstein of the third-degree rape charge, which involves an assailant having sex with someone without consent, in connection with her account. But they acquitted him of first-degree rape, which required proving that “forcible compulsion” was used in the attack.

The split decision suggested that while the jurors believed Mann did not overtly consent to the sexual encounter with Weinstein, they did not believe that she had been physically forced into it.

— Annabella Sciorra’s testimony did little to help the prosecution.

Breaking down in tears at times, Scirorra told the jury that Weinstein pushed his way into her Gramercy Park apartment in the winter months of 1993 or 1994 and raped her as she kicked and punched him in a bid to escape.

Under New York’s statute of limitations, Sciorra’s account was too old to prosecute as a separate crime. But her story was used to charge Weinstein with two counts of sexual predatory assault, which involves an assailant attacking at least two different victims.

harvey weinstein Annabella Sciorra Harvey Weinstein is not charged with attacking Annabella Sciorra, whose accusations date too far back to be prosecuted. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The jurors acquitted Weinstein of both predatory assault charges, the most serious counts, with each carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison.

It remains unclear why the jury acquitted Weinstein on the charges, but Sciorra’s account was problematic in its own ways.

She acknowledged, for instance, that she could not recall precisely which month, or even year, the assault she described had taken place. Weinstein’s lawyers also elicited testimony from one of Sciorra’s old friends, Paul Feldsher, who said that shortly after the incident Sciorra had not described it as a rape but as a “crazy thing” she had done with Weinstein. The defense also called the manager of Sciorra’s building, who said that Weinstein would not have been allowed up to her apartment without her permission.

— The verdict was a victory for Cyrus Vance, Jr., the Manhattan district attorney.

Although the jury acquitted Weinstein of more charges than he was convicted on, the verdict was a significant accomplishment for Vance and his office, which took a huge risk in bringing Weinstein to trial in the first place.

Vance, a Democrat who has long considered himself an ally of feminists, came under enormous pressure to bring a case against Weinstein after The New York Times and The New Yorker published bombshell articles in October 2017, that detailed the stories of scores of women who accused Weinstein of abuse and harassment reaching back to the early 1990s.

Vance was particularly susceptible to the pressure given his own history with sex-crimes cases.

Harvey Weinstein trial timeline Harvey Weinstein at State Supreme Court in Manhattan on February 24. Jurors in Weinstein’s rape trial sent a note to the judge on Friday afternoon suggesting that they were deadlocked on the most serious charges in the indictment, but also that they might have reached a verdict on three other counts. (Desiree Rios/The New York Times)

In April 2015, his prosecutors declined to file charges against Weinstein after an Italian model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, accused him of groping her during a business meeting at his Lower Manhattan office. With the help of detectives, Battilana Gutierrez later recorded Weinstein appearing to admit that he had touched her. Prosecutors decided that she was a problematic witness because she had given inconsistent accounts in a separate sexual assault case in Italy.

Four years earlier, Vance dismissed rape charges against another powerful man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund at the time, after a hotel maid in Manhattan accused him of rape. Again, Vance’s office said it had doubts about the woman’s credibility: She had fabricated a story about a gang rape in her native Guinea.

After the verdict Monday, Vance told reporters at a news conference, “It’s a new day because Harvey Weinstein has finally been held accountable for crimes he committed.”

Also Read | Here’s the timeline of the Harvey Weinstein case | Harvey Weinstein found guilty in landmark #MeToo movement | After a Four Seasons breakfast, Harvey Weinstein heads to dank New York jail | ‘A new day’: Harvey Weinstein convicted, led away in cuffs | ‘The sky is blue again’: Harvey Weinstein’s accusers express relief 

— The verdict may lead to change in the prosecution of complex sex-crimes cases.

Prosecutors have traditionally been averse to bringing rape cases in which witnesses admit to having sex consensually with their assailants at other times.

Rape can and does occur within continuing romantic relationships, like abusive marriages. But there are entrenched assumptions among prosecutors that jurors will view accusers in such cases as less credible, making them hard to prove and therefore only rarely pursued.

Employing a strategy that was used successfully at the second trial of comedian Bill Cosby, Vance’s prosecutors persuaded Burke to let them introduce three additional witnesses whose accounts did not yield charges but bolstered their argument that Weinstein had engaged in a pattern of abusive behaviour.

Harvey Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein rape accusations, Harvey Weinstein rape trial, Harvey Weinstein sexual assault case, world news Accusations against Harvey Weinstein helped spark the #MeToo movement in late 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo)

In another move that seemed to help their case, prosecutors called a forensic psychologist, Dr Barbara Ziv, as a witness. In her testimony, Ziv told the jury that many rape victims maintain contact with their assailants after violent attacks in hopes of normalizing traumatic experiences.

The lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, also dealt head-on with the problematic accounts of Haley and Mann in her closing statement to the jury. Illuzzi noted that Weinstein purposefully remained in contact with his victims in order to control them.

This strategy, Illuzzi said, was “the mark of a predator.”

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