UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Harvey Weinstein’s defense concluded its closing arguments this afternoon, saying that the accused rapist is “the target of a cause and a movement,” and that the six women who testified about their alleged abuse at his hands often couldn’t remember dates, changed their stories, and demanded that the accused “prove a negative” – offering no forensic evidence and saying only, in effect, “believe me.”
“They go on TV to become part of a movement,” attorney Donna Rutonno told the jury, “truth be damned.”
Rotunno, who stirred up a controversy of her own in a recent interview for a New York Times podcast in which she seemed to suggest that victims put themselves in harm’s way by drinking, spent most of the morning addressing (and attempting to dismantle) the testimony of the trial’s two accusers Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley.
This afternoon she focused on the testimony of the four women who took the stand as “Molineux” witnesses, offering their accounts of Weinstein’s past behavior to bolster the cases of Mann and Haley.
One of those witness/accusers was actress Annabella Sciorra, who, Rotunno said, invented her rape accusations against Weinstein only after being contacted by journalist Ronan Farrow in 2017, and that the former Sopranos star concocted the incident to become “relevant” again.
Rotunno told jurors that Sciorra initially told Farrow, in early 2017, that she’d never been attacked by Weinstein and joked that she “wasn’t his type.” In October of that year, Rotunno said, Sciorra changed her account, telling Farrow that Weinstein barged into her Gramercy Park apartment sometime during the winter of 1993-94 and raped her.
The defense attorney said Sciorra had “no career” at the time she made the allegation, and was financially broke. “But Ronan Farrow calls with a theory and if she fits into this theory she will again be relevant. And now, once again, she’s a star. She has a new agent and is the darling of the movement of the minute.”
Rotunno also disputed the testimony of actress Rosie Perez, who said that Sciorra told her about the rape at the time. The defense attorney pointed out that Sciorra had previously said that she told no one about the incident at the time because she “didn’t think it was rape.”
As the afternoon went on, Rotunno pointed out inconsistencies and memory lapses in the testimony of three other Molineux witnesses, noting that all four came forward in 2017 or later, after being contacted by police, journalists and seeing at least some parts of the avalanche of media coverage of “the biggest story” of October 2017.
“Three are now represented by Gloria Allred,” she said, pointing to the attorney and advocate sitting in the front row of the spectator section. “And one by (Douglas) Wigdor.” Rotunno earlier said that Haley and Allred “see the pot of gold at the end of this trial.”
(Outside the courtroom following today’s closing argument, Allred would not comment on the accusation.)
“This isn’t a game,” Rotunno told jurors towards the end of her argument. “This is not some rubber stamp media version of what happened. This is not a kowtow to public opinion… Harvey Weinstein is not guilty of these charges.”
At one point this afternoon, Rotunno also mentioned the testimony of a former Miramax consultant and friend of Weinstein who described the ex-producer as a “sex addict.”
“Tiger Woods is a sex addict,” Rotunno said. “You don’t see him in a courtroom.” (Asked about the Woods comparison as he left the courtroom, Weinstein told reporters something that sounded like, “I prefer Donna rocks!”, apparently a stamp of approval for his attorney.
Lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi begins her closing arguments tomorrow morning. Rotunno gave the jury her prediction for what’s to come: Calling Illuzzi a “good lawyer,” Rotunno said Friday might well get “emotional” and “loud.”
This morning, Rotunno attempted to dismantle the testimony of accuser Mann, and said she felt “sorry” for the woman who was being “used” by the New York District Attorney “to get” Weinstein.
“They saw her break down,” Rotunno said, referring to the trial’s most dramatic moment when Mann had a panic attack and dissolved into sobs on the witness stand under cross-examination by the defense. Prosecutors, Rotunno said, “put Jessica Mann up there” and then, after watching the breakdown, didn’t re-direct — “the only witness they didn’t re-direct.”
Mann’s apparent panic attack occurred when she was testifying about prior sexual molestation, apparently suffered as a child or youth. She also spoke of her various psychological diagnoses, including panic disorder and disassociation. She said she had been tested for borderline personality disorder but that she did not follow through with the examination.
Rotunno’s expression of sympathy for Mann didn’t stop the attorney from what clearly was designed as a devastating, step-by-step dismantling of Mann’s allegations. As she did earlier in the day with the testimony of accuser Haley, Rotunno went through one friendly email exchange between Mann and Weinstein after another, one party invitation after another, one hotel meet-up after another, one favor after another — all, Rotuno said, either initiated or agreed to by Mann in the months and even years after alleged sexual attacks in 2013 and 2014.
Weinstein, the 67-year-old former Miramax and The Weinstein Company chief, is on trial in New York State Supreme Court in the cases of Haley, a production assistant on Project Runway in 2006 when, she says, Weinstein held her down in his Soho apartment and forcibly performed oral sex on her; and Mann, a former actress, model and hairstylist who claims Weinstein raped her in 2013 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
Weinstein insists all sexual relations were consensual, and has pleaded not guilty to five felony charges including rape, criminal sexual assault and predatory sexual assault. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault.
“Nobody understands me like you do,” Mann wrote in one email to Weinstein. Another ended with “Miss you big guy,” and in another, after Weinstein had complimented a haircut she gave him, she wrote, “you make the haircut look good because of your blue eyes and bright smile.”
“Thank you for your unfailing support and kindness,” Rotunno quoted Mann, then added, “again, not words you say to your rapist.”
Rotunno also reminded the jury of testimony by Mann’s former friend Talita Maia and Tommy Richards that contradicted Mann’s account of sexual assaults, and projected on a screen the blog post that Mann wrote following a hotel encounter with Weinstein and another woman that Mann testified she’d been forced into. The blog post describes a fictionalized version of the encounter in comedic terms.
“When I asked her why she would write something funny to describe this horrible experience,” said Rotunno, “she said, ‘I wanted to reframe it through comedy.’ That’s all Jessica Mann does – reframe, reframe, reframe. She reframes her life, she reframes her emails…”
As she did earlier today in her closing argument about Haley, Rotunno indicated that Mann’s ulterior motive in bringing the criminal charges is to take advantage of New York State’s more forgiving statute of limitations compared to Los Angeles, but that in order to take advantage of the allowed time for a New York civil case, criminal charges needed to be filed first. Rotunno reminded jurors of a February 12, 2018 email in which Mann expressed her knowledge of the states’ statutes.
Also as she did earlier, Rotunno repeatedly described the prosecution’s case as an “alternate universe” where women are not allowed “autonomy” or “responsibility” for their actions. “Women,” she said at one point, “have choices,” and repeatedly pointed out that Mann initiated the continued contact with Weinstein, and that as late as February 2015 was asking him to sponsor her membership application at Los Angeles’ Soho House. Said Rotunno, sarcastically, “Maybe reach out” to another possible sponsor “before reaching out to your rapist?”
At one point, Rotunno broadened her comments to include all six accusers who testified in this trial, including actress Annabella Sciorra, as people maintaining contact with, and seeking favors from, Weinstein even after their alleged non-consensual encounters.
“In the alternative universe the district attorney has created,” she said, “Harvey Weinstein is a monster.” Recounting the various witness testimonies that described Weinstein’s weight and “disgusting” appearance, she accused the prosecution of showing the jury nude photos of Weinstein simply to “shame” him. “There was no issue of identification,” she said
“They create a monster yet you can see in emails that span years…a man who says nothing but kind things,” Rotunno said.
The prosecution presents its closing arguments tomorrow, with the judge giving legal instructions to the jury on Tuesday and deliberations beginning thereafter.