NEW YORK — To dispute the accounts of women who’ve accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape, his lawyers called former friends of the women to testify that they appeared “normal” and “seemed OK” in the immediate aftermath of the alleged attacks.
Over the course of five weeks, six women have testified about alleged sexual assaults by Weinstein, once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
Prosecutors in New York have relied solely on the often harrowing accounts from these women to show jurors that Weinstein was a sexual predator with a pattern of manipulating and coercing women into nonconsensual and degrading acts.
Weinstein’s lawyers have attempted to counter this narrative by having witnesses repeatedly say how “normal” and “OK” the women seemed to be after the producer allegedly assaulted them and that their relationships with him appeared to be consensual.
Weinstein is charged with raping an aspiring actor, Jessica Mann, in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a former production assistant, Mimi Haley, in 2006. Prosecutors called four other women to testify that they were sexually assaulted by the disgraced Hollywood producer in order to establish a pattern of his predatory behavior over the years.
Weinstein, 67, has maintained that all the sexual encounters were consensual.
Last week, Mann, 34, gave excruciating testimony of how Weinstein allegedly raped her, forced oral sex on her, and manipulated her into a degrading relationship, which she said included him wanting to film her having sex, urinating on her, and asking if she liked his “big Jewish dick.”
Weinstein’s lawyers called two of Mann’s friends to testify that she did not appear to be in any sort of distress the day Weinstein allegedly raped her at the DoubleTree hotel in Manhattan in March 2013.
Before resting their case on Tuesday, Weinstein’s lawyers called Thomas Richards, a Los Angeles–based talent agent, who met Mann and Weinstein for breakfast at the DoubleTree hotel. Mann alleged that Weinstein had raped her before the breakfast meeting.
Richards, 47, who could not recall many of the specifics of the meeting, said in court that Mann appeared “normal” at the breakfast with Weinstein.
“Tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how Jessica Mann appeared to you the last time you saw her that morning in New York,” Arthur Aidala, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, asked Richards.
“Normal,” he replied.
Aidala asked him to “elaborate” on what his definition of "normal" is.
“Her everyday self,” Richards said.
Aidala also asked Richards if anything about Mann’s appearance — including her complexion, her hair, her breathing, and the way she was dressed — “stood out” to him at breakfast, to which he said "no." Aidala also asked him if her eyes were “swollen or puffy,” and he said "no."
“Was there any indication to you whatsoever that Jessica Mann, that morning when you were having breakfast with her, was in any sort of distress?” Aidala asked. “No,” Richards replied.
Richards said that the three of them “made small talk” during breakfast.
He also said that during the breakfast Mann had pulled him aside for a private conversation and asked him if it would be OK if she didn’t return to Los Angeles with him, as Weinstein had asked her to stay an extra night in New York.
Richards said that Mann also appeared “normal” during that conversation.
During cross-examination, prosecutors questioned whether it was possible that Mann had only asked Richards if it was OK with him because she did not want to stay the extra night and whether he might have missed a cue from his friend — but, after an objection from the defense, the judge did not allow Richards to answer those questions.
Prosecutors drew from the Weinstein defense team’s playbook of grilling witnesses about their memory and social habits by casting doubt on Richards’ memory and questioning him about how much he had to drink the night before breakfast.
“Did you enjoy yourself by drinking a lot the night before?” prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon asked Richards.
“What do you mean by 'a lot'?” Richards asked, evoking laughter in the court.
On Monday, Weinstein’s lawyers called Mann’s former roommate Talita Maia, who Mann said was waiting in another room of a hotel suite while Weinstein sexually assaulted her.
Weinstein’s lawyer asked Maia, 35, how Mann appeared to her immediately after she and Weinstein had spent around 10 minutes in the suite's bedroom.
“Did they exit the room together?” Donna Rotunno, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, asked Maia.
“As I recall, yes,” she replied.
“And how did your friend appear to you?” Rotunno asked.
“Normal,” Maia said.
“Did she seem upset in any way?” Rotunno asked.
“No,” Maia replied.
Rotunno asked her about how Mann behaved on the drive home after the encounter in the hotel.
“Did she seem OK in the car?” she asked.
“She seemed OK," Maia responded.
“Did she seem happy?" Rotunno said.
“She seemed OK. She seemed normal, like nothing out of the ordinary," Maia said.
Like Richards, Maia also said that Mann appeared “normal” when she met her the morning of the alleged assault.
“Did she seem like herself to you?” Rotunno asked.
“Yes,” Maia said.
During cross-examination by prosecutors, Maia said she had a fallout with Mann in 2016 after “Jessica did things in my life that it impacted my life in a very negative — in a terrible, terrible way, and I wish I didn't have to go through that.”
She added, “I don't hate her or anything like that.”
Weinstein’s lawyers also got their witnesses to testify about the times the women spoke about the film producer in glowing terms.
Maia said in court that Mann had called Weinstein her “spiritual soulmate” and that over the course of their relationship, Mann “spoke highly of him,” said he was a “wonderful person,” complimented him, and “seemed to really like him as a person.”
Maia said that at one party, Mann had “put her arm around Harvey and pinched his cheeks” and called him “cute.”
During her testimony last week, Mann addressed why she continued to have a relationship with Weinstein despite her accusations that he had raped and assaulted her.
“He was like Jekyll and Hyde,” Mann said in court.
“There are many likable things about him when he’s his nice self,” she said through her tears. “He’s sort of a genius in his own way.”
Paul Feldsher, the defense’s first witness, said to the jury that his former friend Annabella Sciorra had told him about a consensual encounter she had had with Weinstein. Sciorra, an actor, had testified earlier that Weinstein had raped her in her Manhattan apartment in the early ’90s.
Feldsher said in court that Sciorra had told him that she “did a crazy thing with Harvey” and that he assumed Sciorra was “fooling around” with Weinstein. He also said that when Sciorra had told him about the encounter, “there was no component of what she said that was shocking or stressful.”
However, Feldsher’s testimony backfired for the defense when prosecutors revealed he was in close contact with Weinstein after the allegations against him surfaced in 2017 and that he had said derogatory things about Sciorra and the other women who had accused Weinstein.
“I know you guys had an awkward whatever the fuck night twenty years ago,” Feldsher said in a text to Weinstein. In another text to Weinstein, he called Sciorra as “an asshole,” adding, “The rape version got her an agent at CAA, so there’s that.”
He also messaged Weinstein, “I think the dogpile of women who are suddenly brave in recalling repressed memories is hideous.”
The defense and prosecution will present their closing arguments on Thursday and Friday. The jury is expected to begin deliberating early next week.