The rape trial of Harvey Weinstein, the former movie mogul who faced a wave of sexual assault allegations that popularised the #MeToo movement in the United States, began on Monday in New York.
The disgraced movie mogul entered the New York state courthouse looking frail in a dark suit and using a walker.
Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge of predatory sexual assault.
One of the women, former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, has said Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2006. Prosecutors say Weinstein raped the second woman, who has not been publicly identified, in 2013.
In all, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
The trial beginning on Monday had been the only criminal case against the Oscar-winning film producer to arise from the allegations, which began to come to light two years ago. However, shortly after the New York proceedings began, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that Weinstein was facing a separate set of charges of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in 2013.
“We believe the evidence will show that the defendant used his power and influence to gain access to his victims and then commit violent crimes against them,” Lacey said in a statement.
The wave of accusations helped fuel the #MeToo movement, in which hundreds of women have publicly accused powerful men in business, politics, the news media and entertainment of sexual harassment or assault. The movement has since spread across the globe.
On Monday, Weinstein arrived at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan for a pretrial hearing, which is likely to be followed on Tuesday by jury selection, according to Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose office brought the charges.
Outside the courthouse, the Silence Breakers, a group of Weinstein accusers including actresses Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan, held a news conference, demanding the former producer be held accountable.
“As we stand here at the beginning of a new year and a new decade, time’s up on sexual harassment in all workplaces,” said Arquette. “And time’s up on the pervasive culture of silence that has enabled abusers like Weinstein.”
Weinstein, who used a walker, did not engage with the accusers who shouted at him outside the court. He has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
Accusers plan to attend trial
The trial will hang over the Hollywood awards season, which began with Sunday’s Golden Globes.
Weinstein, who remains free on bail, was once a fixture at the industry’s glitzy ceremonies, with numerous critically acclaimed small-budget films such as Shakespeare in Love, which won the Oscar for best picture in 1999.
At least one Hollywood actress is expected to testify against Weinstein, and several other accusers have said they plan to attend the trial, which could last about four weeks once a jury is picked.
Juda Engelmayer, a spokesman for Weinstein, said on Thursday that the two women in the criminal case had long-term relationships with Weinstein. He said it was prejudicial to conflate the criminal matter with allegations in civil cases or with public grievances he said were lodged by women who were not part of any lawsuit.
Selecting a jury for Weinstein’s trial is also expected to take time, in part because the immense media attention on the case could mean some potential jurors already have their minds made up. Weinstein’s lawyers tried to get the trial moved out of Manhattan, a request rejected by the court.
Lawyers will likely question potential jurors about their knowledge and opinion of the case, their work history and whether they have been victims of sexual misconduct.
Pending civil suits
Allegations against Weinstein were first reported in The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine in October 2017.
Within days, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which selects Oscar winners, had expelled Weinstein. On October 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
#MeToo became one of the most used widely used hashtags. In 2019 it was viewed 42 billion times, according to data from Brandwatch, a research firm.
An acquittal for Weinstein would not end his legal woes, as at least 29 women in the US, Canada and Europe have brought civil claims against him.
The allegations in the civil lawsuits range from battery, assault and defamation to sex trafficking and racketeering. Weinstein has also denied those allegations.
The parties in the lawsuits have been trying to work out a $25m settlement to resolve most of the civil cases. The deal would not require Weinstein to contribute personally or to admit wrongdoing, prompting at least one woman to reject the proposal.
The settlement of the civil cases must be approved by a federal judge in Manhattan and a bankruptcy judge in Delaware.
The film company Weinstein founded with his brother Bob, The Weinstein Co, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2018.