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Harvey Weinstein portrayed as a "sexual predator" and "rapist" as trial opens

Weinstein portrayed as a "sexual predator" as trial opens

Addressing a jury of seven men and five women in a New York courtroom, prosecutors portrayed disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein as a "sexual predator and a rapist" who used his power and influence to prey on women for decades. Opening statements began in the biggest trial of the #MeToo era Wednesday morning in a case that's been seen as a symbol of a global reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful men.

The trial comes more than two years after allegations against the former movie magnate sparked an outcry that mushroomed into the #MeToo movement. 

"At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear that the man seated right there is not just a tycoon in Hollywood, he was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders," said assistant district attorney Meghan Hast.  

Weinstein's lawyers sought to discredit his accusers and portray the encounters as consensual.

Harvey Weinstein Trial Continues In New York
Harvey Weinstein, center, arrives at New York Criminal Court on January 22, 2020. JEENAH MOON/Getty Images

Weinstein's accusers include some well-known actresses who plan to testify or attend the trial, and others who are looking to the case for a form of justice because their allegations haven't resulted in criminal charges. The once-powerful "Pulp Fiction" producer, who denies any non-consensual encounters, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Weinstein, 67, was met with an explosion of allegations from dozens of women after The New York Times and The New Yorker first published separate exposés about his behavior in October 2017.
 
The New York charges, however, are limited to two allegations: that Weinstein raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulted a different woman in his Manhattan apartment in 2006.
 
Backed by expected testimony from four other accusers, prosecutors will attempt to establish a pattern of behavior and portray Weinstein as a monster who used his power to ingratiate himself with women, sometimes promising a film role or other career advancement, before sexually assaulting or raping them.
 
In opening statements, Hast said Weinstein raped and forcibly orally sexually assaulted actress Annabella Sciorra in the early 1990s, sexually assaulted former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006, and raped a 27-year-old aspiring actress in 2013. 

She said the same crime happened to different women from different places, decades apart. Each woman, she said, suffered from fear, shame and humiliation, and struggled as they internalized their trauma.

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Sciorra is not named in the indictment but is expected to testify. 
 
Hast said Weinstein knocked on the door at Sciorra's Manhattan apartment after a dinner in the winter of 1993. When she cracked it open, he forced his way inside.
 
"She told him to get out, she told him no, but Harvey Weinstein is undeterred," Hast said. 
 
Weinstein then allegedly pinned Sciorra to a bed and raped her. She said Sciorra "remembers at some point giving up the fight and just hoping it would end." Hast said Sciorra was left "emotionally and physically destroyed, passing out on the floor." 
 
A woman on the jury winced as Hast spoke.
 
The attack left a devastating emotional impact on Sciorra and led her to drink heavily, Hast said.
 
Hast said Haleyi first encountered Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival when he invited her to his suite to discuss potential opportunities in the industry. But she said Weinstein then started making comments about Haleyi's legs and asked her for a massage. She declined, and she was surprised Weinstein later connected her with a job working on the set of Project Runway, Hast said. 
 
When Haleyi later declined an invitation to accompany him to Paris, Weinstein pushed his way into her apartment in New York as he tried to convince her to change her mind, Hast said. Haleyi eventually accepted an invitation to go with him to a movie premiere in Los Angeles.
 
"The wealthy, powerful Harvey Weinstein was manipulating the relationship," Hast said.
 
In July of 2006, Hast said Weinstein sent a car to bring Haleyi to his Manhattan apartment. The two were talking when Weinstein suddenly lunged at Haleyi, backing her into a bedroom and holding her down on the bed, where he forcibly orally sexually assaulted her, Hast said.
 
"Miriam ultimately decided to just check out. She tried to endure the violent sexual assault Harvey Weinstein was perpetrating on her," Hast said.
 
Hast said Weinstein preyed on women without professional experience in the industry who were looking for work, treating them as  "pawns."
 
"They thought they got their big break, that he respected their ability and talents," Hast said.

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Another of the accusers, a woman who had moved to Los Angeles from a Washington state farm, was looking for work as an actress when Weinstein offered to help her land roles, Hast said. 
 
He had invited the woman up to his hotel room to look at a script when he allegedly grabbed her by the arm, pinned her down on a bed and orally sexually assaulted her. The woman continued to have contact with Weinstein after that, a decision "that ultimately led her to feel suicidal," Hast said. 
 
Weinstein allegedly raped the woman in March and November of 2013. In the alleged November 2013 attack, Hast said the woman had just told Weinstein about her boyfriend when he grabbed her by her arms, "ripped her from the chair and dragged her to the bedroom, all while screaming at her that she owed him one more time."

The prosecutor said Weinstein later told the woman, "I just want to apologize for what happened earlier. I just find you so attractive, I couldn't resist you."

Harvey Weinstein's defense

Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis countered by laying out plans to introduce friendly-sounding emails, calendar entries and other evidence to call the accusers' accounts of being attacked into question. Cheronis has said some of the women "also bragged about being in a sexual relationship with him."

Cheronis cast doubt on Hast's portrayal of the alleged assaults, saying it "doesn't hold water."
 
"Everything that Ms. Hast just told you is not evidence," Cheronis said. "She wasn't there, she doesn't know these individuals. She's relying on what they told her happened."  

Cheronis said of Sciorra's allegation, "there's certainly more to this story." He said the "Sopranos" actress had worked with Weinstein "for years" and first came forward publicly with the allegation in 2007. He said Sciorra can't offer an exact day or time for the alleged incident, so neighbors or potential witnesses can't be interviewed.    

Cheronis said the 2013 rape accuser sent Weinstein a request that year asking for "time privately" with him and another message letting him know, "I got a new number. I just wanted you to have it. ... Always good to hear your voice." 

Cheronis said: "These aren't our words. They're hers. It is not a relationship based on fear, you are going to see that."

Weinstein's trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said. Judging from an arduous two-week jury selection that netted a panel of seven men and five women, it could be surrounded by protests and intense media coverage.

Later Wednesday, testimony got underway with prosecutors calling to the stand former Weinstein Co. board member Lance Maerov, who described the ex-producer as "an extremely influential, powerful person" who could be charming in public and aggressive in private.

"I would say his public personality was diametrically opposed to who he was in private," Maerov said. The movie company went bankrupt after Weinstein's fall.

Once the New York trial is over, Weinstein faces additional rape and sexual assault charges in Los Angeles. Those charges were filed this month as jury selection in his New York trial was getting underway.

—Cassandra Gauthier contributed reporting.

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