Written by Jan Ransom
From the start, Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers have made it clear they intend to secure an acquittal in his rape case by destroying the credibility of his accusers.
On Tuesday, a day before opening arguments, they gave a first glimpse of that strategy, saying they would use a trove of emails to demonstrate that some of the women allegedly assaulted by Weinstein later bragged about having an affair with him.
Damon Cheronis, a defense lawyer, said Weinstein’s team will point to dozens of “loving emails” between the once-powerful movie producer and his accusers to suggest the sexual encounters were consensual.
“What we will be able to show is that witnesses who claim Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted them also bragged about being involved in sexual relations with him,” Cheronis said during a hearing in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan. “They bragged about these things he allegedly forced them to do.”
The lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, immediately disputed that claim, calling Cheronis’ characterization of the emails “blatantly inaccurate.”
But the back-and-forth in court showed that the coming trial will not only delve into the complex issues of consent and power dynamics in the workplace but will also ask the jury of seven men and six women to wrestle with the issue of sexual assault within an ongoing relationship.
In legal terms, rape can — and often does — occur within consensual relationships, such as an abusive marriage. Some victims choose — or are forced by circumstances — to maintain outwardly friendly relationships with their attackers.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcing oral sex on a second woman in his apartment in 2006. Weinstein is also charged with predatory sexual assault, exposing him to a possible sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors have signaled that they intend to portray Weinstein as a powerful producer who used his influence to force and manipulate women into having sex with him. But his lawyers have argued that it was Weinstein who was used by the women who have now accused him.
Revelations about Weinstein’s treatment of women in The New York Times and The New Yorker set in motion the global #MeToo movement, a public reckoning about the harassment endured by women for centuries. The prosecution’s case largely hinges on the jury believing the women’s accounts; there is no physical evidence to support the allegations.
Six women will be called to testify about their allegations that Weinstein sexually assaulted them. Four of those incidents happened too long ago to be prosecuted as separate crimes, but prosecutors hope their testimony will show a pattern of predatory behavior.
Weinstein’s lawyers have long made it clear that they intend to discredit his accusers by focusing on emails that suggest the producer’s relationship with the women was consensual and had lasted long after the alleged crimes.
“The evidence will show the complaining witnesses sent dozens and dozens of loving emails to Harvey Weinstein,” Cheronis said, adding that one woman gave Weinstein her new phone number and another sent an email saying she wanted the producer to meet her mother.
The judge overseeing the trial, Justice James M. Burke, told Weinstein’s defense lawyers that they could talk about the emails during opening statements but could not show copies of them to the jury.
According to a 2018 defense motion, the woman who told authorities that Weinstein had raped her in March 2013, who has not been identified, sent him an email April 11, 2013 saying: “I hope to see you sooner rather than later.”
The next day she wrote, “I appreciate all you do for me, it shows.” And five days later, she wrote, “It would be great to see you later and catch up.”
Years later, the woman continued to correspond with Weinstein, writing to him Feb. 8, 2017: “I love you, always do. But hate feeling like a booty call.”
Later Tuesday morning, Weinstein lost his bid to move the trial to a different county, away from what his lawyers have called the “carnivallike atmosphere” of Manhattan. A state appellate court denied the request “in its entirety,” clearing the way for opening arguments Wednesday.
The decision by the Appellate Division, First Department, which is in Manhattan, ended Weinstein’s eleventh-hour effort to delay his trial and move it, perhaps to Albany or Suffolk County.
Last week, Weinstein’s lawyers had argued to the court that the producer could not get a fair trial in New York City because of an “unprecedented media spectacle” that has included reporters and camera crews filling courthouse hallways and protests against Weinstein taking place on the streets outside.
Manhattan prosecutors called Weinstein’s request “a transparent attempt to delay the proceedings” that ignored “the obvious fact that the public interest in the defendant and his case transcends the boundaries of New York County.”
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