Prosecution rests, defense gets turn at Weinstein rape trial

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Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein departs a Manhattan courthouse for his rape trial, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial rested their case Thursday after more than two weeks of testimony punctuated by harrowing accounts from six women, including some who said he ignored pleas of “no, no, no” and justified his behavior as the cost of getting ahead in Hollywood.

Now Weinstein’s lawyers are calling witnesses of their own as the landmark celebrity trial moves one step closer to a verdict. They haven’t said whether Weinstein himself will testify. Doing so could bring big risks because prosecutors would be able to grill him about each of the allegations that jurors have already heard about in vivid detail.

When the prosecution rested, Weinstein attorney Donna Rotunno immediately asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that testimony from the woman he is charged with raping “does not in any way show a forcible act by Mr. Weinstein.” The judge rejected the request.

The defense’s first witness, an industry executive who remains a Weinstein ally, seemed blindsided when a prosecutor confronted him with text messages that appeared to justify the movie mogul’s behavior and bash his accusers.

Paul Feldsher, a former agent who once knew accuser Annabella Sciorra, scolded Weinstein in November 2018 for “behaving like a cad.” But in another message read to the jury, he stuck up for Weinstein, telling him: “I think the dog pile of actresses who are suddenly brave and recalling repressed memories are hideous.”

On Friday, the defense is expected to call is a psychologist who specializes in memory. The defense is looking to raise doubts about the women’s recollections of encounters that in some cases are more than a decade or two old.

The criminal charges at the trial in New York City are based on two allegations: that Weinstein raped a woman in March 2013 and that he forced oral sex on another woman in 2006. The allegations against Weinstein helped fuel the #MeToo movement. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Weinstein, 67, maintains that any sexual encounters were consensual but taking the witness stand to say so could be risky.

“I tell my clients once you take the stand you have lost your shield, which is me, and you are on your own,” said defense lawyer Brian McMonagle, who helped secure a mistrial in Bill Cosby’s first sexual assault trial in 2017. Cosby was later convicted.

“In my experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, it is rare to see a client take the stand,” he said. “The problem is that some jurors do hold that against you.”

In addition to the two main accusers, other women have been allowed to testify in the New York case as prosecutors attempt to show there was a practiced method to Weinstein’s attacks, including inviting women to his hotel room to discuss business, then disrobing and demanding sexual favors.

Prosecutors ended their case after the last of those other accusers finished telling jurors about about an encounter with Weinstein in 2013.

Lauren Marie Young, a model from suburban Philadelphia, testified that Weinstein invited her to his Beverly Hills hotel room, lured her to the bathroom, stripped off his clothes, pulled down her dress and groped her breast. Her allegation is part of a criminal case that was filed against Weinstein in California just as this trial was getting underway.

Her testimony bookended that of Sciorra, the first accuser to testify. She alleges Weinstein barged into her apartment in the mid-1990s, threw her on a bed and raped her as she tried to fight him off by kicking and punching him.

In between, jurors heard similar stories of Weinstein ingratiating himself with much younger women, appearing to show interest in helping their careers before getting them into a hotel room or an apartment and violating them.

Some were aspiring actresses. The 2006 accuser, Mimi Haleyi, was looking to get more involved in behind-the-scenes aspects of the entertainment business.

Over the past weeks, jurors were also reminded of the complexity of the women’s relationships with Weinstein.

For example, the woman Weinstein is charged with raping faced three days of questioning, much of it on cross-examination, as Weinstein’s lawyers scoured friendly, sometimes flirtatious emails she sent the film producer after the alleged assault.

The woman acknowledged meeting Weinstein for other sexual encounters. She said she kept in touch because “his ego was so fragile” and that contacting him “made me feel safe.”

At one point, Weinstein lawyer Rotunno asked the woman why she would accept favors from “your rapist.”

The woman turned to jurors and declared: “I want the jury to know that he is my rapist.”

Prosecutors also showed jurors emails that suggest it was Weinstein trying to keep their complex relationship afloat, pining for meetings with messages like, “R u meeting me or forgetting me…”

The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent. It is withholding name of the rape accuser because it isn’t clear if she wishes to be identified publicly.

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