Closing arguments began on Wednesday in the Los Angeles rape trial of Harvey Weinstein, following weeks of emotional testimony that saw multiple women take the stand, including the wife of California’s governor.
Marlene Martinez, a prosecutor in the case, began her final arguments with a photograph of Weinstein smirking at the camera, at the height of his power as a “titan of the film industry”. Seated in the courtroom, Weinstein, looking shrunken and pale as a corpse, stared at the photograph of himself on the screen.
The prosecutor then changed the photograph on the screen to an image of a yellow-eyed wolf. “Harvey Weinstein was a predator,” Martinez told the jury on Wednesday. And like all predators, she said, he had his tactics to snare his prey. “For this predator, hotels were his trap.”
This week will see the second trial against the former film producer in as many years near its conclusion, with jury deliberations expected to begin in the coming days. Weinstein is currently two years into a 23-year prison sentence for a rape and sexual assault in New York and is now facing seven additional charges against four more women in California.
Weinstein pleaded not guilty to the charges and has staged an aggressive defense, with his attorneys attacking the credibility of the women testifying against him and labeling his most prominent accuser, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary film maker who is now married to the governor of California, as a “bimbo”.
During the six-week trial, the jury has heard painful, graphic testimony, including from four women who say Weinstein raped or assaulted them in hotels in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. The trial also included testimony from four other women, who were brought in by prosecutors to establish a pattern of Weinstein’s alleged behavior, though Weinstein is not facing criminal charges in Los Angeles related to their testimony. Those women backed up the California accusers’ accounts with testimony about similar assaults by Weinstein elsewhere, including in Toronto, Puerto Rico and London.
The two women who are accusing Weinstein of forcible rape both repeatedly broke down on the stand as they testified, with the first accuser crying so intensely that the judge ended court for the day.
In recapping the weeks of emotional testimony, Martinez emphasized how closely the women’s accounts resembled each other, and how often Weinstein was described making the same arguments – of replaying the same moves, like inviting a woman to meet at a public place in a hotel and then shifting the meeting to his hotel room.
“These are eight women who don’t know each other,” she said. “They’re all describing the same conduct, by the same person.”
Martinez replayed an audio recording of Weinstein talking to an Italian model in New York, trying to persuade her to come into a hotel room with him after allegedly touching her breasts during a business meeting the day before. “How many times does he hear her say no, but he resists?” the prosecutor said.
“No did not mean no for Harvey,” she said. “Red did not mean stop to Harvey.” The aspiring actresses and writers and producers who agreed to business meetings with Weinstein were not doing anything wrong, Martinez said.
Like many people in Los Angeles, they were pursuing their dreams, she said, and they did not know that “at the end of that dream was the monster at the end of that table”.
Different trial, similar tactics
Though Weinstein, 70, appeared pale and shrunken in stature in the courtroom after years in prison, his legal strategy had not appeared to change much since his New York rape trial. His attorneys engaged in grueling cross-examinations of his accusers, putting their memory and their morals on trial.
Weinstein’s defense attorneys have argued that some alleged victims made up the attacks, and that others had consensual sexual encounters with Weinstein to advance their careers, and only began to describe their encounters with him as rape or assault in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein’s accusers in Los Angeles include an Italian model who says Weinstein showed up at her hotel room door late at night during a film festival in 2013, forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her. That woman, who has been identified in court only as “Jane Doe 1”, testified the attack left her with intense feelings of shame and guilt for deciding to open the door, and that it made her want to “destroy” herself.
Weinstein’s defense attorneys responded by showing the jury upbeat Instagram selfies the woman had posted from the hotel room in the days after the alleged attack.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the first partner of California, also testified that Weinstein assaulted and raped her during what she thought would be a business meeting in a hotel in 2005, when she was a young actor and producer still trying to find her way in the industry. Judge Lisa Lench made clear that Siebel Newsom’s husband, Gavin Newsom, could not be in the courtroom with her when she testified.
In a grueling cross-examination, Weinstein’s attorneys asked Siebel Newsom about the graphic details of her testimony, including the sounds she made during the alleged rape, and showed the jury dozens of friendly business emails that she had sent seeking meetings with Weinstein or asking for his advice in the months and years afterward. Attorneys also questioned Siebel Newsom about political donations Weinstein had made to her husband’s campaigns.
A third woman, who also testified during Weinstein’s New York trial, said she had met Weinstein at a hotel in 2013 for what she thought was a business meeting to pitch a script, and that Weinstein led her into a bathroom, took off his clothes, and started masturbating and groping her, even though she kept saying “no”.
A fourth woman, a massage therapist who specialized in celebrity clients, said that when she went to a bathroom to wash her hands after giving Weinstein a massage, he followed her into the room, masturbated in front of her and groped her.
Weinstein has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by more than 90 women, who have said he used his status as a Hollywood powerbroker to rape, assault and harass women in the industry, from aspiring actresses to some of his production company’s most famous stars, and that for decades the people around him enabled and covered up his behavior.
The trial comes as She Said, the film dramatizing how dozens of women finally chose to speak out about sexual assault by the powerful producer, is generating Oscar buzz.
Weinstein, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence for a rape and sexual assault conviction in New York, pleaded not guilty to the California charges and did not testify during the trial. He has continued to maintain that all his sexual encounters were consensual. If convicted of the new charges, Weinstein faces years of additional prison time.
In his New York trial, Weinstein’s sentence came after he was convicted of just two of the five charges brought against him, with the jury finding him not guilty of the most serious charges of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape. Legal experts said the conviction was notable because the jury found Weinstein guilty of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another even though both women testified to having continued relationships with Weinstein after being assaulted.
New York’s highest court recently agreed to hear an appeal of his conviction there.
In Los Angeles, a jury of nine men and three women will deliberate on the charges against Weinstein. During the jury selection process, one of the women on the jury said she was “on the fence” about the #MeToo movement, noting: “I believe most women but not necessarily all.”
Another of the jurors, an older man, expressed skepticism during the selection process about whether he could find a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case with no DNA evidence, as the prosecutors are asking for in this trial.
“It’s kind of an ambiguous question,” that juror said. “It all depends on the type of assault.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting