Closing arguments in Harvey Weinstein's rape trial began Thursday and his top lawyer, Donna Rotunno, implored the 12 jurors to use their "New York City common sense" and find him not guilty. She said Weinstein has unfairly been painted as a villain while his accusers entered into consensual, transactional relationships with him.
"In a court room setting, you have to throw that gut feeling right out the window, because you have to evaluate the evidence," said Rotunno, per the Hollywood Reporter. "Use your New York City common sense. Every time you feel like emotion is taking over, remember that common sense when evaluating this evidence because it will guide you to the right answer.
"You don’t have to like Mr. Weinstein," she added. "This is not a popularity contest. The unpopular person needs you most."
Rotunno said the district attorney "failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt" and begged jurors "to have the courage" to say "not guilty."
The disgraced producer is facing five criminal charges, including rape and predatory sexual assault. Six women — Miriam Haley, Jessica Mann, Dawn Dunning, Lauren Young, Tarale Wulff and Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra — testified they were sexually assaulted. Rotunno spoke specifically about each of the six women, according to THR. Only Haley and Mann are part of the indictment against Weinstein. The judge allowed the four other women to testify so prosecutors could establish a pattern of behavior.
"In the end, it comes down to those two," Rotunno declared. "If you don’t believe Miriam Haley or Jessica Mann, you don’t have to evaluate anything else. You don’t get to Annabella Sciorra if you don’t believe Miriam Haley."
Mann, a hairdresser and aspiring actress, admitted to being in a consensual relationship with Weinstein. During her emotional testimony, she accused Weinstein of raping her twice. (He is only charged with one of the alleged assaults in 2013.) Haley, a former production assistant on Project Runway, testified that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her at his apartment in 2006.
According to the New York Times, Rotunno zeroed in on Haley in the early part of her remarks, claiming "She was using him for jobs." Rotunno said Haley's relationship with Weinstein was close to a romance, claiming the prosecution has "to label it as a professional relationship because if they labeled it as what it was, we wouldn’t be here."
Rotunno accused prosecutors of weaving "a sinister tale" during the trial, one where Weinstein is a villain and his accusers are innocent victims who lack "autonomy" and "common sense."
"In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they expect, the jobs they hope to obtain," she stated. "In this universe, they aren’t even responsible for sitting at their computers and emailing someone across the country."
"In this script, the powerful man is so unattractive and large that no woman would ever want to sleep with him voluntarily," Rotunno added.
Variety notes Rotunno pleaded with the jury not to "cave" to pressure.
"Here, in New York City, in the United States of America, we don’t cave to the pressure," she exclaimed, adding, "You should never feel bullied or pressured to change your decision… stand your ground… Historically, you are the last line of defense in this country, from the overzealous media, from the overzealous prosecutors, you are the one here being asked to make [the decision]."
Rotunno seems to enjoy the overzealous media as she recently spoke to the New York Times for its podcast The Daily. (Weinstein's lawyer sparked outrage in the interview when she said she has never "put" herself in the "position" to be sexually assaulted.) In court, Rotunno denied violating Justice James Burke's order he made Jan. 6 that ordered the defense not to discuss any of the witnesses with the press.
"I have not spoken to anyone in the media since we’ve started this case. That was taped a while ago," she asserted, per Variety. (The New York Times said the interview was taped on Jan. 28)
Before Rotunno began making her closing remarks, Judge Burke asked Weinstein if he was certain he didn't want testify in his own defense, remarking that the Shakespeare in Love producer told the press he wanted to share his side of the story.
"Yes, your honor," Weinstein replied.
Prosecutors will present closing remarks on Friday, day 28 of the high-profile trial. The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday. If convicted, Weinstein faces life in prison.
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