By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Harvey Weinstein on Thursday took aim at the credibility of the women accusing the former movie producer of sexual assault and urged jurors in the closing arguments of his New York trial to acquit him.
The prosecution “wove a sinister tale of a man who searched out his victims by putting them through a series of tests,” but that story was not supported by evidence, said Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno.
“The irony is that the (prosecutors) in this case are the producers and they are writing the script,” she said. “They are creating a universe in which they are stripping adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility.”
The jury is expected to hear the prosecution’s closing argument on Friday in the trial that began more than a month ago.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013.
He faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault, the most serious charge.
The trial is a milestone for the #MeToo movement in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.
Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
The former producer, who was behind films including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied any nonconsensual sex.
Haleyi testified during the trial that Weinstein forced oral sex on her in his home in 2006. Some time later, she said, she went to see him in a hotel in an effort to “regain some sort of power.” Weinstein pulled her onto a bed and had sex with her, Haleyi testified.
Haleyi said she “went numb” during the encounter and did not want to have sex with Weinstein. Under cross-examination, she said she had not been forced. She acknowledged sending several friendly emails to Weinstein after the encounter.
On Thursday, Rotunno said Haleyi and Weinstein had “more of a relationship than she wants you to believe,” pointing to Haleyi’s emails and her decision to accept plane tickets from Weinstein to Los Angeles and London after the alleged assault.
Rotunno said the “real time communication” between Haleyi and Weinstein would lead “any reasonable person” to conclude they had a good relationship.
Rotunno then turned to Mann, who testified that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room early in what she called an “extremely degrading” relationship with him. That relationship continued for years and included consensual sex, Mann said.
Rotunno said Mann’s emails with Weinstein, as well as trial testimony from two of her friends at the time, indicated that she did not appear distressed after the alleged rape, undermining her story.
She said Mann “couldn’t keep anything straight” under cross-examination.
To bolster the prosecution case, four additional women were called by prosecutors, including actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)