Harvey Weinstein case: New York rape trial set to begin in earnest

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in New York on Wednesday

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Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in New York on Wednesday

Harvey Weinstein’s trial is set to begin in earnest, with the former Hollywood producer facing the possibility of life behind bars.

Mr Weinstein faces five charges, including rape and sexual assault, relating to two unnamed accusers.

The 67-year-old denies the charges. He says the two encounters, which happened in 2006 and 2013, were consensual.

Prosecutors will begin making their case against Mr Weinstein in New York on Wednesday.

He will be present in court to hear their opening statement as well as that of the defence.

The trial is expected to conclude in early March.

Once one of Hollywood’s most decorated and lauded producers, more than 80 women have accused Mr Weinstein of sexual misconduct – allegations which helped drive the #MeToo movement.

But few of the complaints have led to criminal charges.

Last week, a judge told potential jurors that they must decide Mr Weinstein’s case based on the evidence and not make it “a referendum on the #MeToo movement”.

What is he charged with?

Mr Weinstein is charged with raping one woman in a hotel room in Manhattan in 2013, and performing a forcible sex act on a second woman in 2006.

The criminal charges stem back to May 2018, when Mr Weinstein turned himself in to New York police. He was then charged with rape and several other counts of sexual abuse against the two women.

He was released on $1m (£760,000) bail the following month and pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault in the New York Supreme Court.

There were originally six charges, but in October that year a New York judge dismissed one of them after prosecutors said one of his accusers had given a witness a different account of the alleged sex assault from the version she had given them.

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Media captionHired by Weinstein to extract information on celebrities

In August 2019, Mr Weinstein pleaded not guilty to two additional charges of predatory sexual assault. They related to an alleged assault that took place on actress Annabella Sciorra in Manhattan in the early 1990s.

That is too long ago to be prosecuted under New York state law, but prosecutors filed the indictment because it will allow them to call Ms Sciorra as a witness during the trial.

Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who led the sex assault case against former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011, will lead the prosecution.

Mr Weinstein unsuccessfully tried to get the trial moved out of New York City, arguing that the intense media scrutiny would make it hard for him to get a fair hearing.

What is his defence?

The 67-year-old has admitted that he has “caused a lot of pain”, but maintained he is innocent of any crimes.

“Mr Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual,” his spokeswoman said soon after the first allegations emerged.

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Mr Weinstein’s lawyers Damon Cheronis (left) and Donna Rotunno talked to reporters following a bail hearing

His lawyer Donna Rotunno has said she plans an aggressive defence.

In September, she told CBS: “Any time we talk about men and women in sexual circumstances, I think we have to look at the fact that there’s always an area of grey. So there are these blurred lines, and I think sometimes one side walks away from an event feeling different from the other.”

She said the evidence would exonerate the movie mogul of any criminal wrongdoing. “I’m not here to say he was not guilty of committing sins,” she said. “But there’s a difference between sins and crimes, and I don’t think he’s a rapist.”

Mr Weinstein himself is unlikely to testify.

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