Jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial have started deliberating on charges in the landmark MeToo case that could put the once-powerful Hollywood mogul behind bars for the rest of his life.
The panel of seven men and five women received instructions in the law from the judge before beginning to weigh charges that the film producer raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman, TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.
Jurors will also weigh actress Annabella Sciorra’s account of a mid-1990s rape in considering charges alleging Weinstein is a sexual predator, even though the allegation is too old to be charged on its own due to the statute of limitations.
Other accusers gave evidence as part of the prosecution’s effort to show he used the same tactics to victimise many women over the years.
A torrent of allegations against Weinstein in October 2017 spawned the MeToo movement. His trial is seen as a landmark moment for the cause, but Judge James Burke has cautioned jurors that it is “not a referendum on the MeToo movement”.
Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno sent a similar message in a Newsweek essay over the weekend, drawing complaints from a prosecutor who said she appeared to be trying to influence the jury.
Ms Rotunno wrote that the jurors “have an obligation to themselves and their country, to base their verdict solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom”, not critical news stories, unflattering courtroom sketches or other outside influences.
Confronted about the essay in court on Tuesday, Ms Rotunno said she was writing “about the jury system as a whole” and was not speaking to the jury in Weinstein’s case.
Assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said the essay was “100% inappropriate”. She asked Judge Burke to instruct the jury to ignore the piece and revoke Weinstein’s bail and send him to jail because, she argued, it could not have been done without his permission.
The judge denied the prosecution request, but told Weinstein: “I would caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.”
In her closing argument on Friday, Ms Illuzzi said Weinstein treated the women who accused him like “complete disposables” and made them feel ashamed even though he was the one who was at fault.
“What he wants to do is he wants to get them in a situation where they feel stupid. If you feel stupid and belittled, belittled, stupid people do not complain,” the prosecutor told jurors.
But Ms Rotunno said in her closing argument last week that prosecutors had “created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility”.
Ms Haleyi, a former Project Runway production assistant, told the trial that Weinstein pushed her on to a bed and sexually assaulted her, undeterred by her kicks and pleas of: “No, please don’t do this, I don’t want it.”
The woman who says Weinstein raped her in 2013 sobbed in court as she described how she sent him flattering emails and kept seeing him after the alleged rape because “I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat”.
The jury will resume deliberations on Wednesday.