No Verdict Today In Harvey Weinstein Rape Trial; What The Jury Could Be Thinking

Harvey Weinstein arrives at Manhattan courthouse today Seth Wenig/Shutterstock

The jury in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial ended its first day of deliberations Tuesday without reaching a verdict. They will resume tomorrow.

Earlier today, the deliberating jury asked New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke questions about the role of actress Annabella Sciorra in the case. Specifically, why The Sopranos actress’ account of rape is paired in the predatory sexual assault charges involving complainants Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley, but does not have any “stand-alone” charges against the defendant.

Burke instructed the jurors not to speculate about any charges not submitted to them for consideration.

Later, the jury asked to see certain emails in which some women were marked in red on a list — an apparent reference to emails sent by Weinstein to his private detectives in 2017 in which he “red-flagged” specific women, including Sciorra, for top-priority investigation.

The trial in Lower Manhattan’s New York Supreme Court has been underway since January 6, and the seven men and five women who’ll now decide the future of the Miramax co-founder will consider weeks of testimony, a bewildering number of conflicting versions of events, and two very different takes on culpability in the #MeToo era. An era, not so incidentally, that owes its existence in no small way to the man on trial.

In her defense of Weinstein, attorney Donna Rotunno attempted to put something of a post-feminist spin on the case, arguing that women must take responsibility — “autonomy,” is a word she repeated — for choices like meeting men in hotel rooms for the sake of career advancement. Rotunno recently told a New York Times podcast that she had never been sexually assaulted because she never put herself “in the position” to be assaulted.

“Regret,” she told the jury last week, is “renamed as rape” by the accusers.

Joan Illuzzi, the Assistant District Attorney serving as lead prosecutor in the trial, described a different universe altogether, one in which young, vulnerable women, financially struggling and attempting to succeed in the ferociously difficult business of Hollywood, were preyed upon by a man whose power was as outsized as his body was large (Weinstein’s bulk was often contrasted by prosecutors with the petite women taking the witness stand.)

Weinstein, Illuzzi said, believes “the universe is run by me” and the “disposable” women he stepped on, spit on and raped “don’t get to complain.”

The contrast between the views of Rotunno and Illuzzi couldn’t be starker, but its only one decision the jury will make during its deliberations.

Weinstein, the 67-year-old former Miramax and The Weinstein Company chief, has been publicly named by scores of women for alleged sexual misconduct. He’s on trial in New York State Supreme Court in the cases of Miriam “Mimi” Haley, now 42, who was 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 Jessica Mann, 34, a former actress, model and hairstylist who claims Weinstein raped her in 2013 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

Four other women, including Sciorra, testified to their own accounts of sexual misconduct involving Weinstein, with prosecutors hoping to establish patterns and bolster the cases of Mann and Haley.

Sciorra is particularly significant here — her account of being raped by Weinstein during the winter of 1993-94 is part of the two predatory sexual assault charges against Weinstein. If the jury convicts on either of the predatory charges — finding the defendant guilty of raping Mann and Sciorra, or criminal assault against Haley and Sciorra — the sentence could be life in prison.

Weinstein insists all sexual relations were consensual, and has pleaded not guilty to all five felony charges on various counts of rape, criminal sexual assault and predatory sexual assault.

On its way to those verdicts, though, the jury has any number of threads to untangle and sides to take. Here’s just a sampling:

Why did Mann and Haley maintain friendly contact with Weinstein after, they say, he assaulted them?

The defense built much of its case on this very question, insisting that Mann, Haley and the four “Molineaux” witnesses, including Sciora, used Weinstein for party invitations, business contacts and career advancement. The seemingly unending barrage of friendly, even affectionate emails sent to Weinstein by Mann (“miss you, big guy”) and Haley suggest, defense attorneys repeatedly asserted, that they were the users, not Weinstein. Only in the “alternative universe” created by the prosecution, said Rotunno, “is helping someone land a job a bad thing.”

“All the real-time communication, all the documented evidence, would make any reasonable person say that Miriam Haley and Harvey Weinstein were in a relationship,” Rotunno said in her closing argument. Only later, she said, did Haley decide to “rename and relabel” the relationship.

But the prosecution, repeatedly citing expert testimony that rape victims often maintain contact with their abusers, insist the continued, after-the-fact contact is irrelevant, with Illuzzi portraying Weinstein as the one who made sure to keep the young women nearby, emotionally if not physically, “to make sure that one day they won’t step out of the shadows and accuse him of what he was” — an “abusive rapist.”

As for those Oscar party invitations and movie premieres accepted by the women, Illuzzi said such networking was the lifeblood of “navigating a very difficult industry.” Attending glitzy parties was work “that looks like play,” a necessity for the financially struggling young models and hopeful actresses. “You know what?” said Illuzzi in her closing argument. “The stupid parties, the stupid events, the premieres, don’t matter. They don’t matter.”

Did Mann tell a friend that Weinstein gave her the best orgasm she’d ever had on the night she says he forcibly performed oral sex on her? If so, doesn’t that indicate consent?

Context here is important. Rotunno asked Mann’s former friend Talita Maia whether Mann had made the “best ever” comment, and Maia answered yes. But the prosecution offered a more nuanced take: As Weinstein forced himself on Mann, repeatedly asking “Isn’t this great?”, Mann faked an orgasm and told Weinstein “it was the best I ever had” in order to end the attack and get out of the room as quickly as possible. That is what she told Maia, the prosecution said: Not that she’d experienced the best orgasm, but that she’d merely said as much to escape.

Did the six accusers who testified during the trial know one another beforehand? And why would that be important?

Both the defense and the prosecution repeatedly raised this question, with prosecutors dismissing the suggestion that the accusers were previously acquainted and, though it was never stated explicitly, in some sort of collusion.

“None of these women knew each other,” said Illuzzi. “That’s the hallmark of a predator — isolate them so they will feel like they’re the only one.” The sense of feeling alone and taking on “a giant not only his own industry (but someone) who gets the president on the phone” accounts for the years-long waits to come forward. “Mimi, Jessica, Annabella, they didn’t know there were other women. They thought it was only them.”

Irrelevant, countered the defense. In October 2017, Harvey Weinstein was the biggest story in the nation, and all of the women certainly knew about the many accusations by then. They didn’t have to know one another personally to shape their stories to fit the others.

Why would Sciorra sign on to do the 1997 Miramax film Cop Land, starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, several years after she says the company’s co-founder barged into her Gramercy Park apartment and raped her? 

Weinstein’s attorneys portrayed the actress’ involvement in the film as evidence that she didn’t fear the producer, and mocked the actress’ testimony that she was “forced” to do the film.

Prosecutors counter that Sciorra accepted the role unaware that Weinstein was a producer, mistakenly assuming that Miramax was merely the distributor. Once on board, the actress felt she was under a contractual obligation to follow through. Prosecutors called former Weinstein Co. board member Lance Maerov to testify about Weinstein’s litigiousness. “He specifically threatened personal litigation against me,” Maerov confirmed.

Why was Sciorra’s ’90s-era Valium addiction relevant to her allegations?

The actress testified that Weinstein had, in effect, started her addiction to the sedative during the filming of the 1993 Miramax film The Night We Never Met. Even though she had complained of “struggling with fatigue,” prosecutors said, Weinstein one night sent her a care package of popcorn, a movie and a bottle of Valium. Sciorra became dependent on the drug, even during daylight hours, she says.

Weinstein’s lawyers subpoenaed former Miramax consultant (and ex-friend of Sciorra) Paul Feldsher to testify that he and Sciorra took Valium even before the movie’s filming. The defense showed a paparazzi photo from the era showing the actress wearing a “Valium” baseball cap.

So, what difference does it make? The prosecution argued that on the winter night of 1993-94, when Weinstein raped Sciorra, he’d given her a ride home in a limo following an industry event. Thinking that she was still taking Valium to get to sleep, he waited for 20-30 minutes to return, expecting to find her “groggy” and “weak.” She was neither: Unbeknownst to Weinstein, Sciorra had weaned herself off the drug.

Didn’t Rosie Perez corroborate Sciorra’s account of rape?

Perez testified that she spoke by phone with Sciorra on that winter night, and that a “weird”-sounding Sciorra whispered: “I think something bad happened …. I think I was raped.”

Weinstein’s attorneys disputed Perez’s testimony, reminding jurors that Sciorra herself had remembered telling no one about the attack, and that Perez was retroactively fitting the timeline of her discussion with Sciorra to support her friend.

Prosecutors said an explanation for the discrepancy between the recollections of the two friends could be found in Sciorra’s disturbing account of that night at her Gramercy Park apartment: “I didn’t have much fight left inside of me at that point,” Sciorra said, explaining that during and after the rape “my body shut down. It was so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual. It was like a seizure.” After the attack, she said, she “fainted or fell asleep or blacked out,” and remembers little else from the night. “I don’t remember the immediate reaction when I woke up,” Sciorra said. “I don’t remember much except for feeling disgusting.”

Did Weinstein hire Black Cube, the infamous private intelligence agency run largely by former officers of Israel’s Mossad, to investigate or to intimidate?

Weinstein’s hiring of Black Cube through his law firm Boies Schiller to investigate Sciorra, Rose McGowan and other accusers was, depending on which side is doing the telling, either a perfectly logical act of self-defense or a nefarious attempt to frighten the women and re-write history.

Rotunno said Weinstein, as the owner of a business that was about to be hit with the worst possible publicity, had every right to hire investigators to turn up the emails, phone calls and witnesses that would provide “the whole picture” necessary for “justice” and “the truth.”

Prosecutors painted a darker picture: Weinstein was not only investigating, they said, but demanding that investigators use subterfuge — investigators posing as journalists, for starters — to target the women, particularly the women he felt posed the greatest threat. He “red-flagged” Sciorra as a top priority, fearful she’d talk to journalist Ronan Farrow. In an email written by Weinstein, the producer told an investigator that Sciorra had “done Cop Land with us. This was consensual or deny it.”

“Consensual or deny it are the polar opposites of each other,” said prosecutor Alluzzi to the jurors. “I submit to you that’s a confession.”

What’s so bad about hiring Gloria Allred?

Much was made by the defense that some of the accusers had hired big-name attorneys Gloria Allred and Douglas Wigdor (both of whom were ever-present as trial spectators). Rotunno said that while Allred hasn’t been paid yet, “she sits here because she knows there’s a pot of gold at the end of this trial.” At one point, Rotunno sarcastically mimicked Haley’s answer about whether she will sue Weinstein after the criminal trial: “I don’t have plans to,” Rotunno said, quoting Haley.

Illuzzi, raising her voice to a shout during her closing argument, said, “How dare he, with five lawyers sitting there every day from every state, complain about how these women have a lawyer? If you were navigating this situation, wouldn’t you want to consult a lawyer?”

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2020/02/harvey-weinstein-rape-trial-jury-questions-deliberations-1202861471/