(NEW YORK) — Opening arguments were presented Wednesday at the New York trial of Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced former Hollywood mega-producer charged with rape and sexual assault.
In a 90-minute opening argument that was graphic and emotional, Manhattan prosecutor Meghan Hast recounted the stories of the six women who will testify.
Weinstein is charged with crimes related to two of the six women, and the rest are being called in support of prosecutors’ efforts to demonstrate a pattern of sexual predation.
Hast’s opening previewed the extraordinary challenges prosecutors are facing in seeking to prosecute Weinstein for crimes that took place years ago and include no physical or forensic evidence — with accusers whose behavior some may question.
The prosecutor painted a picture of women overpowered by Weinstein — nervous, upset and confused — who in some cases gave up the physical struggle against him and simply “laid there motionless, like a dead fish.”
In some instances, Hast said accusers returned to him time and time again, despite what Hast described as emotionally and physically devastating sexual assaults.
She added that some, like actress Annabella Sciorra, who is testifying in support of the pattern argument, “did not call the police, nor does she remember telling anybody for years” after Weinstein allegedly “violently and forcibly raped and orally sexually assaulted” in the winter of 1993-94.
Former Weinstein production assistant Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi, Hast said, alleged that Weinstein put her through secret “tests” to see how she’d react to incrementally more aggressive sexual harassment, before he sexually assaulted her.
Eventually, according to Hast, Haleyi claimed she “just laid there motionless, like a dead fish, and let him violate her. Let him rape her. The pinnacle being when he told her she was a w—- and a b—-.”
Still, Hast said, she returned to him: “This defendant was so manipulative and the power dynamic so skewed that even after being violently assaulted, [Haleyi] was afraid to offend him.”
Hast described an alleged meeting between Haleyi and Weinstein where “she returned to meet him at the Tribeca hotel. Looking down at her shoes, old and worn, Miriam felt the weight of her situation,” Hast said. “She didn’t know what to do about what happened to her at the ends of someone who has everything.”
“There she was, compliant, going to meet the man who just a week earlier had violently sexually assaulted her, leaving her feeling vulnerable and helpless. Miriam Haleyi saw no way out as she walked in those old shoes back to the man who had assaulted her,” Hast said.
Hast then recounted what one unnamed complaining witness told prosecutors about the allegations that in 2013 Weinstein violently raped her.
“Like Miriam, the 105-pound [witness] was no match for the nearly 300-pound Weinstein,” Hast said.
Another accuser, Dawn Dunning, who has not previously been named, Hast said, claimed she met Weinstein while working as a waitress at a Manhattan nightclub before he allegedly eventually sexually assaulted her. She claimed she returned to him under the prospect of acting work, Hast said, and Weinstein offered her film roles if she’d engage in a threesome with him and another woman.
Finally, Hast told jurors about the account of Tarale Wulff, a previously unnamed accuser and Long Island woman, who said she met Weinstein when she was working at a lounge of Cipriani’s in New York City. Weinstein allegedly took Wulff to a secluded hallway near a rooftop and began masturbating.
Hast said Wulff threw the towel she was carrying at Weinstein and ran. She, too, returned to his offices after the incident on the promise of acting work. Wulff “convinced herself that the defendant was simply a dirty old man.”
She alleges she later met him at his downtown Manhattan apartment — the same one where Haleyi alleges she was assaulted — and was herself sexually assaulted.
Despite saying, “‘No, please, I can’t’ … she simply froze, turning her head and trying mentally to erase the horror,” according to Hast.
Defense opens its argument
“This stops now,” defense attorney Damon Cheronis began in defense openings. “What you just heard … is not true.”
“I promise you that if you drown out this and listen to the cross-examinations you’re going to know that what Ms. Hast told you doesn’t hold water,” he said, later claiming that the prosecutor’s opening was “a preview to a movie we’re not going to see.”
Cheronis then posted copies of apparently friendly emails sent by Haleyi and another accuser to Weinstein — seeking jobs, wondering if he’d be in Los Angeles for a birthday, reaching out to chat about Broadway — that seemed to indicate a comfortable relationship. Haleyi, according to Cheronis, asked Weinstein to fly her to London several days after he allegedly sexually assaulted her.
“We’re not victim-shaming,” Cheronis said. “‘Victim is a conclusion attained only after trial. These are complaining witnesses.”
He said that the accusers scheduled to testify have made numerous TV appearances but have never been cross-examined under oath.
“What you are going to see throughout this trial is that they wanted to have it both ways,” Cheronis said. “You can’t say, ‘I’m afraid of this man, I can’t get away from him,’ and then reach out to him to see if he’ll be in L.A. for your birthday.”
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