NEW YORK — Two years after dozens of women came forward to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, his rape trial began Wednesday with opening statements by prosecutors, who portrayed the disgraced Hollywood mogul as “a sexual predator,” and his lawyers, who maintained their client has been mischaracterized.
Following two weeks of jury selection — and several attempts by Weinstein’s lawyers to delay the trial — dozens of people filled Judge James Burke’s courtroom in the New York State Supreme Court building for opening statements, laying out the arguments lawyers are expected to present during the two-month trial.
Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast began by describing Weinstein as a savvy New York businessperson and famous Hollywood producer “who lived a lavish lifestyle that most of us will never know … and, once we learn about, will not want to live.”
Hast spent the next 90 minutes walking the jury of seven men and five women through Weinstein’s alleged history of mistreating women, calling him “a sexual predator and rapist.”
Hast introduced the stories of women the prosecution plans to call to testify against Weinstein, using photographs of the women and some of the key locations where their encounters with him occurred. When introducing Weinstein to the jury, Hast used three pictures of the former producer — two from Hollywood events, including one on a red carpet, and one with Bill Clinton.
While some of these stories — such as those of actor Annabella Sciorra and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi — have already been made public, Hast repeated them to jurors in graphic detail. She also introduced other witnesses, including Tarale Wulff, who was working as a server at the restaurant Cipriani when she says she was assaulted by Weinstein.
Actor Dawn Dunning will also testify that Weinstein asked her to have a threesome with his assistant in exchange for three acting parts. Hast also introduced the jury to Jessica Mann, who she said was involved in a long, abusive relationship with Weinstein.
Acknowledging that several of the victims’ testimonies may challenge commonly held beliefs about rape and victims, Hast said the prosecution would also bring to the stand an expert on sexual assault, who will explain why victims, particularly when violated by people they know and who have professional power over them, behave very differently from the way one might expect.
“Remember the trick,” she said. “A person who is about to have consensual sex with someone does not need to trick that person into a sexual encounter. Harvey Weinstein was like the old lady in the gingerbread house, tricking children into entering,” she said.
Weinstein’s attorney Damon Cheronis, pointing at his client — who came to court Wednesday for the first time since his trial began without a walker — told jurors that his client has been mischaracterized.
“This is Harvey Weinstein — this man right here who in the past has been described as a predator, a rapist, a monster,” he said. “This stops right now, in this courtroom.”
He told the jurors they will need to remain impartial when deciding his client’s case, telling them, “The only thing that matters in this case is what happens here in this room — not on BuzzFeed, not on YouTube.”
He told jurors that he plans to present evidence, including emails and text messages, from the women and Weinstein to show that what happened between them was consensual.
Cheronis read several examples of text messages, including one from Mann to Weinstein sent in 2017 that said, “I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call. :)”
“That's not how you talk to your predator or your rapist. It's not,” Cheronis said.
He went on to say that the trial will be the first time the women will have been questioned since making their accusations.
“They’ve appeared on the news and in interviews — but they haven’t been questioned, and that is what we will do here professionally and thoroughly,” Cheronis said.
He later said, "What we plan on doing is not victim-shaming. We are here to ask questions that have never been asked."
Hast, the prosecutor, told the jurors that they will be asked to assess whether Weinstein forcibly sexually assaulted the victims, “not whether the victim’s reaction was the best reaction."
Weinstein's attorney is expected to continue his opening statement Wednesday afternoon.