Harvey Weinstein found guilty of rape at New York trial

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(The Independent) – Harvey Weinstein, the fallen titan of Hollywood whose sexual abuse of aspiring young female actors sparked the #MeToo movement, has finally been brought to justice after a New York jury found him guilty.

The jury of seven men and five women at the New York supreme court took five days to reach their verdict. They found the defendant guilty of a criminal sex act in the first degree for forcing oral sex on the former Project Runway production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006.

The count carries a minimum prison sentence of five years and a maximum of up to 25 years.

The jury also convicted Weinstein of rape in the third degree. This relates to him raping a woman the Guardian is not naming, as her wishes for identification are not clear, in a New York hotel in 2013.

Weinstein was acquitted of three further charges, including the two most serious counts of predatory sexual assault which carried a possible life sentence and an alternative count of rape in the first degree.

After the verdict Weinstein was handcuffed and remanded into custody ahead of sentencing on 11 March. His lawyers requested that he be kept in a jail infirmary while awaiting sentencing.

The movie mogul’s epic fall from grace is now complete, toppled from the pinnacle of independent cinema where he helmed films such as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, amassing a total of 81 Oscars. The glamorous Manhattan and Los Angeles lifestyle he once enjoyed will soon be replaced by a New York state prison cell.

The conviction marks the final comeuppance for a towering figure who wielded his power in the movie industry – as well as his commanding physical presence – over vulnerable young women seeking his help.

Though Judge James Burke cautioned the jury not to see the case as a referendum on #MeToo, Weinstein’s conviction is certain to have far-reaching consequences for gender relations in the workplace, in Hollywood and far beyond. The world of powerful men who deploy their seniority as tools of sexual control is much less secure in its wake.

Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney representing victims of sexual assault, said she expected to see a wave of women coming forward with complaints against other sexual abusers. “No matter how powerful a person is, no matter how much mud or dirt may be flung at those who have the courage to come forward, we are in a new time. The #MeToo era has thankfully started to unmask these systems of abuse of power, and now women can be heard and believed.”

The guilty verdict could also have a profound impact on the way sex crimes are prosecuted. The New York district attorney’s office took an enormous gamble in how they set up the trial.

Prosecutors chose as main accusers two women, both of whom continued to have close – and at times sexual – contact with Weinstein after they were attacked. In the past, prosecutors have almost always balked at such cases where coerced and consensual sex exists side-by-side, considering them too messy to secure guilty verdicts.

The fact that the tactic succeeded with the jury is a sign of the shifting sands of #MeToo. It suggests that prosecutors might have far more leeway in future to take on cases where victims continue to be in the thrall of their attackers after sexual assaults – a scenario which sex crimes experts say is all too common and yet up til now has been almost entirely neglected by the criminal courts.

As psychiatrist Barbara Ziv told the jury in expert testimony, “it is the norm to have contact with the assailant.”

Such a striking victory can be credited to the two intrepid prosecutors, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Meghan Hast, who meticulously laid out the defendant’s culpability. They did so against the headwinds generated by Weinstein’s lawyers led by the Chicago-based sex crimes defender Donna Rotunno who was so aggressive towards witnesses that she induced in one of the two main accusers a fully fledged panic attack.

The prosecutors called 27 witnesses over 12 days, building up a profile of the movie producer as a cold and calculating sexual predator that ultimately overwhelmed defense arguments. They emphasized the vast gulf in power – and girth – between Weinstein and his victims.

He was a “famous and powerful Hollywood producer living a lavish lifestyle that most of us will never know”, Hast said, pointing out that he counted among his friends not only the elite of Hollywood but also world leaders like ill Clinton. By contrast, the unnamed rape victim was brought up on a Washington state dairy farm.

Weinstein, 67, meticulously planned his attacks, carefully selecting his victims for their vulnerability and neediness. He set them loyalty tests that if they passed would then lead onto the next stage of his predatory grooming.

He hooked Miriam Haley, now 42, his second main accuser, by helping her secure a production assistant job on Project Runway. Then on 10 July 2006 he lured Haley up to his SoHo apartment under the pretext of a business meeting.

Once inside things were normal until the film producer suddenly lunged at her and tried to kiss her. She rejected him, but he kept on coming, pushing her backwards into a bedroom and onto the bed.

She remembered the room being dimly lit and with children’s toys in it.

“I tried to get up and he pushed me down. I just said, ‘No, I don’t want this to happen.’” She kept protesting, telling him she was on her period, but “it was as if he didn’t believe me”; he yanked the tampon out and carried on attacking her.

Eventually she stopped resisting. “I figured it was pointless,” Haley told the jury as she cried.

The rape victim described the defendant as a Jekyll and Hyde. “If he heard the word ‘no’, it was like a trigger for him,” she said.

As the evidence unfolded in courtroom 99, through the eerily similar accounts of all six women, it became clear that sex for Weinstein had nothing to do with seduction, romance and affection, let alone intimacy or love. As the rape victim testified, her attacker had to use a needle to inject himself in the penis with an erectile dysfunction medicine before he could carry out the assault.

One of his friends, Paul Feldsher, who was called as a defense witness, said Weinstein had a “sex addition”. But a much more accurate analysis of his behavior was given by Illuzzi-Orban, who told the jury that “ultimately this trial is about the defendant’s desire for conquest”.

In the end, what will stick in the mind of many of those people who sat through the trial – witnesses, jurors, court officials, reporters and public alike – was the terrifying violence of the attacks.

Haley related in court how Weinstein had ripped out her tampon before forcing oral sex on her. Tarale Wulff, a model 43, who was one of three witnesses called by the prosecution to show a pattern of “prior bad acts” by the defendant, recounted how she was attacked in his SoHo apartment in 2005.

“He took me by the arms turned me around and threw me on the bed then got on top of me,” she said. “He put himself inside me and raped me.”

Several of the witnesses told the jury that Weinstein appeared to think he was entitled to abuse women given his status within the movie industry. When Dawn Dunning, another of the “prior bad acts” witnesses, declined his demand for a threesome in 2004 when she was 24, he screamed at her: “This is how the business works. This is how actresses got where they are.”

Weinstein’s new role as a convicted sex criminal is not the end of the story. He will now face sentencing at the hands of Burke, a judge who throughout the trial has shown himself to be immune to the complaints of Weinstein’s lawyers about the way the trial was conducted.

In turn, those complaints were likely to have been designed as seeds for future appeals. Rotunno and her defense team complained repeatedly that the trial was unfair, calling for it to be moved out of New York because of the city’s concentration of anti-Weinstein media coverage, claiming that the jury had been tainted, and objecting to elements of the evidence – including a set of official photographs of the defendant’s allegedly deformed genitals.

Before he gets to lodge any appeal, Weinstein could face further legal jeopardy. Los Angeles authorities have charged him with raping and sexually assaulting two women over a two-day period in February 2013.

It remains to be seen whether those prosecutions will proceed or whether they will be allowed to wither now that he is certain to face prison time in New York. One of the two women in the LA case was a “prior bad acts” witness in New York – Lauren Young, who told the jury how Weinstein had groped her in a hotel bathroom in Beverly Hills in 2013.

Beyond Weinstein’s fate, several big questions are likely to rise up as a result of the verdict. In particular, how was it possible for a serial sex attacker to evade justice for so many years?

Books written by the Pulitzer-prize winning journalists who exposed Weinstein in 2017 – She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times, and Catch and Kill by the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow – outline an elaborate network of lawyers, private detectives and other paid advisers and assistants who worked diligently on the movie mogul’s behalf. These enablers repeatedly rallied to Weinstein’s cause, silencing his accusers and ensuring that for decades his wealth and power effectively rendered him untouchable.

Nobody is above the law, the truism says, but Harvey Weinstein was above the law for at least a quarter of a century. Until this week, when justice finally caught up with him.

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