On the first day of Harvey Weinstein’s second rape trial Monday, prosecutors in Los Angeles promised jurors that witness after witness would prove that the disgraced movie mogul used his power to repeatedly rape and assault women trying to make it in Hollywood. Defense attorneys, though, promised to prove that the “firehose” of testimony was actually nothing more than a trickle that would “evaporate” under intense scrutiny.
Such were the strategies outlined by both sides as Weinstein, who was first charged with rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles in 2020, faces 11 counts of sexual assault stemming from allegations by five women between 2004 and 2013. They include charges of rape, sexual assault, forcible oral copulation, sexual battery by restraint, and sexual penetration by use of force.
Weinstein, 70, has pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Weinstein is serving a 23-year sentence after being found guilty of rape and sexual assault in New York in 2020. If convicted in Los Angeles, he could face an additional 140 years behind bars.
On Monday morning, prosecutors began their opening remarks by telling the jury of nine men and three women the stories of the women who will be testifying against Weinstein.
“Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said. “They feared that he could crush their careers if they reported what he had done to him.”
Throughout the two-month trial, the jury will hear from eight women who were assaulted by Weinstein in Los Angeles, Thompson said, despite the fact that the district attorney’s office has previously said that nine women would testify.
There was no mention of Jane Doe 5 in the prosecution’s opening arguments, and as of now, the reason for the change is not yet known. Gloria Allred, an attorney for Jane Doe 5, declined to comment on the omission, according to the Los Angeles Times.
During the opening remarks, photographs of the eight women were shown to the jury, and prosecutors read quotes from their testimonies detailing their alleged assaults.
“I was trying to convince him that it’s nothing gonna happen... I was like, please, I have kids," Thompson said one of the women told investigators.
All of the women testifying against Weinstein were aspiring actors, models, or screenwriters, apart from one woman, who was a licensed massage therapist, prosecutors said.
Four of the women’s testimony will be directly connected to specific charges in the case.
Those women include filmmaker and spouse of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, referred to as Jane Doe 4; a model and actor referred to as Jane Doe 1 (who lived in Italy at the time of the alleged assault but was visiting Los Angeles); Lauren Young, who was a 23-year-old model and aspiring screenwriter when she was allegedly assaulted by Weinstein; and Jane Doe 3, who was a 29-year-old licensed massage therapist when she says Weinstein assaulted her.
(BuzzFeed News does not typically identify potential victims of sexual assault unless they have publicly come forward themselves or through attorneys.)
Four additional women will testify as “prior bad acts” witnesses, meaning they will provide testimony on experiences they have had with the defendant, which prosecutors will then use to illustrate a pattern of criminal behavior and abuse.
One of the “prior bad acts” witnesses, a woman referred to as “Ashley M,” is alleging that Weinstein assaulted her after a 2004 movie premiere in Puerto Rico, where he forced her onto a bed, grabbed her breasts, and masturbated on her face and chest.
Norwegian model Natassia Malthe is also among the witnesses; she is set to testify that Weinstein raped her in 2008 during the British Academy of Film and Television Awards. Prosecutors said Monday that Malthe’s friend, director David Nutter, whom she confided in, will also testify.
Prosecutors said all of the women testifying told their friends or family around the time when the alleged assaults occurred.
But the women did not publicly accuse Weinstein until after the #MeToo movement exploded in 2017, said prosecutors, except for Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierre, one of the “prior bad acts” witnesses in the case.
Battilana Gutierre reported Weinstein to the New York Police Department in 2015 after she claimed he assaulted her by groping her breasts and putting his hands up her skirt. Then-Manhattan District attorney Cy Vance decided not to prosecute the former producer.
But for the other women, prosecutors said it was not until the New York Times story broke and women started speaking out that they felt comfortable coming forward.
During opening statements on Monday, Thompson outlined all of the women’s accusations and pointed out similarities in their stories. Throughout the trial, the prosecution is going to show a pattern of Weinstein luring women into private meetings, often in hotel rooms, and then sexually assaulting them, Thompson said.
Prosecutors also said that the women were intimidated and fearful of Weinstein due to his immense physical size and power in Hollywood, noting he was one of the most powerful men in the industry at the time.
“I was scared that if I didn’t play nice, something could happen in the room or out of the room because of his power in the industry,” one woman said, according to Thompson.
“Part of me was thinking I should just make a run for it, but he's a big guy,” he quoted another as saying.
In the opening remarks, Thompson mentioned the allegations made by Siebel Newsom, who is accusing Weinstein of forcible oral copulation and forcible rape related to an incident that occurred between 2004 and 2005.
“Seventeen years ago, when she met the defendant, she was a powerless actor trying to make her way in Hollywood,” prosecutors said, adding that this was long before she was married to California’s governor.
The alleged rape occurred when Weinstein invited Siebel Newsom to “discuss her career” at the Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles, the prosecutors said, adding that the two had initially met prior at the Toronto Film Festival.
Siebel Newsom assumed the meeting would be at the public hotel restaurant and that Weinstein’s staff members would be with him, but when she arrived, she learned the meeting would be in a hotel room.
“She was nervous and uncertain of how to navigate this situation with one of the most powerful people in Hollywood,” Thompson said. While they were talking, Weinstein allegedly went to the bathroom and changed into a bathrobe.
Weinstein asked Siebel Newsom to touch him, and when she refused, he moved toward her and spoke of a “list of A-List actresses whose careers he supposedly made,” prosecutors said. “His voice moved from pleading to aggressive and demanding.”
She alleges that he then forced her onto the bed while she was crying and shaking.
“She couldn’t get any words out because of her fear,” Thompson told the jury.
Weinstein then allegedly said, “Relax, this is going to make you feel better,” and then forcibly performed oral sex on her and raped her.
On Monday afternoon, Weinstein's attorney Mark Werksman said that throughout the trial, they will reveal “the prosecution’s case is a firehose ... designed to shock and awe,” adding that each allegation is a “weak and unsubstantiated trickle that will evaporate upon your close scrutiny.”
Werksman argued that the allegations, in this case, are “based upon emotion, not facts” and “can be traced directly to a movement called the #MeToo movement.” He also said that, in Hollywood, “sex was a commodity,” that Weinstein was just part of the “casting couch” culture, and that the intercourse was consensual.
“Now look at him. He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think those beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot? No. They did it because he was powerful,” Werksman said, claiming that the women willingly “played the game.”
Werksman then went through each Jane Doe and “prior bad act” witness accusation, telling the jury that some of the accounts of assault were fabricated and that others lacked credibility.
Jane Doe 1, who alleges that she was assaulted by Weinstein in February 2013 when visiting Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival and the Academy Awards, testified Monday that, after the event, she had dinner and returned to her hotel room. She said she then received a call from the front desk saying that she had a guest, despite the fact she was not expecting anyone. They told her it was Weinstein and that he was insistent on seeing her.
Jane Doe 1, while beginning to cry on the stand as she recalled the incident, said he began knocking on her door and kept asking her to open it. Finally, she let him in, and he sat on a chair.
After chatting, she said Weinstein had removed his jacket, which is when she asked him to leave. “I was continuing to ask him to go because I was realizing it was something awkward, and I was missing my English a lot,” Jane Doe 1, who mainly speaks Russian and Italian, testified.
According to prosecutors, Weinstein then allegedly tried to open her robe and reached for her breasts. He then allegedly dropped his pants, climbed on the bed, and began masturbating.
“I was afraid of what he was doing, how he was acting, in my room,” she said. “I was asking him, please, to leave.”
The former movie mogul then allegedly grabbed her by the hair and pulled her onto the bed, forced her to orally copulate him, and then forcibly penetrated her.
She began crying, said Thompson, and “tried to show him pictures of her kids.”
“I was crying, choking,” she said.
Over the course of the entire trial, about 80 witnesses are expected to take the stand. Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.