Harvey Weinstein was a serial predator who used business meetings to sexually assault women over the course of decades, according to prosecutors in the former Hollywood mogul’s L.A. trial, which began opening statements on Monday morning.
Weinstein’s defense team delivered their opening statement to the jury later on Monday afternoon, and painted a very different picture of their client, who denies all wrongdoing, and is facing 11 charges stemming from the accounts of five women whose allegations span from 2004 to 2013.
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Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence from his New York rape and sexual assault conviction in 2020. If convicted in the current Los Angeles trial, Weinstein could be behind bars for life.
Nine women will testify throughout the trial, which is expected to last two months. In addition to the five women whose charges are the basis of the sexual assault and rape charges, four women will take the stand as supporting witnesses, in an effort to establish a pattern of Weinstein’s behavior.
“Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said as he addressed the jury. He put up photos of all of the women who will testify throughout the trial, and read quotes from them detailing their alleged assaults in graphic detail, including depictions of forcible oral sex, rape, groping and fondling.
“I’m shaking and I’m kind of being dragged to the bedroom,” one women said.
Another said, “He was masturbating, he started putting his hand down my shirt underneath my bra.”
“He undressed me and was like fondling my breast and jacking off and then like came on my face,” according to another woman, whose remarks were read by the prosecutor.
Thompson spoke to the jury — comprised of nine men and three women — for nearly an hour and a half. He presented stories from the Jane Does and the supporting witnesses who would be taking the stand in the case, including Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who alleges Weinstein raped her in 2005, and uncharged witness Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who claims she was assaulted in 2015 and cooperated in a sting operation with the NYPD, which led to Weinstein’s arrest, but no charges, at that time.
The jury heard a lengthy audio recording from the sting operation. Weinstein was heard giving Gutierrez career advice and promising to help her as an actress, as he allegedly groped her breast and tried to get her into a hotel room. “Don’t embarrass me in the hotel. I’m here all the time,” Weinstein is heard saying in the recording. When Gutierrez says she is uncomfortable, Weinstein swears on his children he is “not going to do anything,” before appearing to threaten her. “Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes,” he said in the 2015 recording. “If you don’t trust me, then we have no reason to do anything, and you will lose big opportunities.”
When addressing Siebel Newsom’s alleged rape, the prosecutor reminded the jury that this occurred long before she was married to California Governor Gavin Newsom. “Seventeen years ago, when she met the defendant in 2005, she was a powerless actor trying to make her way in Hollywood,” Thompson said.
The alleged rape occurred when Weinstein invited Newsom to “discuss her career” at the Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles. They had initially met prior at the Toronto Film Festival. Siebel Newsom assumed the meeting would be at the public hotel restaurant and that Weinstein’s staff members would be with him, so she would’t be alone, Thompson said. When she arrived, she learned the meeting would be in a hotel room. She sat on the couch and awaited Weinstein, who entered the room with five or six other people, but “to her surprise,” they quickly left, Thompson said.
“She was nervous and uncertain of how to navigate this situation with one of the most powerful people in Hollywood,” the prosecutor said of Siebel Newsom’s mind frame in the moment.
During the conversation, Weinstein went to the bathroom and changed into a bathrobe. “She was shocked, and her mind raced,” Thompson says. Weinstein asked her to touch him, and when she refused, he moved toward her and referred to a “list of A-List actresses whose careers he supposedly made,” Thompson told the jury. “His voice moved from pleading to aggressive and demanding,” as he forced Siebel Newson onto the bed as she was crying and shaking. “She couldn’t get any words out because of her fear,” he said.
That’s when Weinstein allegedly said, “Relax, this is going to make you feel better.” He then forced his mouth onto her vagina without any consent. And then, he got on top of her, and forcibly raped her.
Like Siebel Newsom and Gutierrez’s alleged assaults, the prosecution laid out a pattern involving Weinstein assaulting women in hotel rooms, tied to business events or meetings. He would either show up unannounced at women’s hotel rooms, late in the night after film festivals, when he would use his power and connections to force his way past lobby staff and into the women’s rooms; or he would arrange a meeting under the guise of helping an aspiring actress or model get cast in a project, which would then turn into him forcing the women into his hotel room, where he would violently assault them. Often, according to the deputy D.A., he would have female aides with him, who ushered women to his hotel room, under the promise of a business meeting, but then suddenly exited the room, leaving the women alone with Weinstein and scared.
Many of the instances that were presented by the prosecutor involved Weinstein masturbating in front of the women. Other incidents included Weinstein using his large body to straddle and corner the women against their will. The deputy D.A. often described Weinstein’s anatomy, telling the jury that the women will all describe his abnormal testicles when they take the stand. Weinstein would typically wear hotel bathrobes, ask for massages and shower in front of the women, according to the prosector — who told the jury that all of the women said no, pleaded with Weinstein to stop, and cried, screamed or shook during the interaction.
The prosecutor told the jury that many of the women continued their communication with Weinstein after the alleged assaults because they were fearful of retaliation. The women felt shameful and embarrassed after the alleged attacks.
All of the women who are testifying against Weinstein were aspiring actresses, models or screenwriters, aside from one, a licensed massage therapist who was hired to massage Weinstein, which ended with him allegedly assaulting her by cornering her in a hotel room, masturbating in front of her and ejaculating on the floor. The other women include Italian actresses or models, who were attending film festivals in the U.S. All of the key witnesses’ alleged assaults occurred in Los Angeles, while claims from supporting witnesses occurred at other industry events, including in New York City and at the Toronto Film Festival.
Weinstein listened attentively to the deputy D.A.’s remarks with no reaction, other than looking ahead from the defendant’s table, where he was seated next to his defense attorneys, Alan Jackson and Mark Werksman. Weinstein changed from his jail attire into a black suit and a blue tie, after he was wheeled in from custody.
When the defense presented their opening statement to the jury, Werksman said that Weinstein did not abuse his power to abuse women; rather, the attorney argued, the women consensually engaged in sexual interactions with Weinstein because they were aware of his power in Hollywood, so they willingly had “transactional sex” with him, in hopes of obtaining work, status and fame in the entertainment business.
Editor’s note: This story was updated, following the defense’s opening statement.
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