The trial of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein got underway with opening statements on Wednesday, as New York prosecutors tried to establish the accused’s pattern of predatory behaviour.
Weinstein has been charged with rape and sexual abuse in incidents involving two different women in the state. He had pleaded not guilty.
“The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist,” Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told the jury and Judge James Burke. She characterised Weinstein as a “seasoned predator” who attacked women who were “no match” for him.
“It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable.”
Hast then went on to describe a violent assault that allegedly occurred in a New York City hotel room in 2013.
Lawyers for the once-powerful movie producer used their opening statement to imply that his accusers are being deceptive.
“You are going to see evidence from the witnesses that this is not true; that he was not this master manipulator,” said defence lawyer Damon Cheronis.
In the run-up to the trial, observers noted that Weinstein’s legal team would likely use friendly emails sent by his alleged victims as proof that they are habitual liars. However, many of the more than 80 women who have accused Weinstein of assault or harassment have pointed out that they were often pressured by the ex-producer or his associates into maintaining friendly contact for fear that he would stymy their careers.
Weinstein clashes with trial judge
Before the day’s proceedings, Weinstein told reporters that he believed he would get a fair trial because he has “very good lawyers,” but he has already earned the ire of Judge Burke.
Since the initial hearing of the trial on January 6th, Burke has had to repeatedly demand that Weinstein stop breaking court rules about using his smartphone while the trial is in session.
“Is this really the way that you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?” Burke asked. The defense attempted to use this comment to get Burke to recuse himself in favour of a different judge, something Burke patently refused.
Once this trial concludes, Weinstein faces further criminal proceedings in California on sexual assault charges.
Although he has been accused of everything from predatory behaviour to rape by scores of women in Hollywood, putting Weinstein on trial has been an uphill battle. In many of the cases, the statute of limitations has expired or there is no physical evidence. Even if an accuser has both evidence and time on their side, several women have spoken out about the campaign of bullying that comes from accusing an extremely wealthy man with a phalanx of lawyers, and fear that defense attorneys may tear into every detail of their personal lives during cross-examination.
The trial continues with actress Annabella Sciorra expected to testify on Thursday. Sciorra also claims that Weinstein attacked her, but her allegation is too old to be the basis of a separate charge.