The verdict represents a watershed moment in the legal profession. The prosecution used witnesses who revealed that Harry Weinstein sexually abused them to establish a pattern of criminal behaviour on his part.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on February 25, 2020

Oscar-winning Hollywood studio moguel Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty of rape and sexual assault and faces spending the rest of his most-celebrated life in jail.

Harvey Weinstein, famous for producing Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Hateful Eight (2015) and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), will lodge an appeal against the guilty verdict, his defence lawyers said after the verdict.

The verdict, if upheld, represents a watershed moment in the legal profession. The prosecution used witnesses who revealed that Harry Weinstein sexually abused them to establish a pattern of criminal behaviour on his part. Weinstein committed rape, forced oral sex on the women, groped them, masturbated in front of them and made lewd propositions the jury heard.

“This is the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America, I believe, and it is a new day. It is a new day because Harvey Weinstein has finally been held accountable for crimes he committed,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr said. “Weinstein is a vicious, serial sexual predator who used his power to threaten, rape, assault and trick, humiliate and silence his victims.”

The 67-year-old Weinstein, whose fall from grace began in October 2017 when The New York Times and The New Yorker reported that dozens of women accused Weinstein, of The Weinstein Company and formerly Miramax Films, of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse over a period of at least 30 years, had a look of resignation on his face as he heard the verdict that sent him to jail pending sentence. The charges carry up to 29 years behind bars.

“The prosecution of sex crimes is relatively rare when the assaults are of the more commonplace kind — between acquaintances, with minimal force and delayed disclosure. Such circumstances can test the ability of jurors to set aside conventional notions of sexual assault. When friendly exchanges or even consensual intercourse between the perpetrator and the victim occur after the assault, as they did according to testimony in the Weinstein trial, it becomes difficult to fathom a prosecution, must less a conviction,” writes former Manhattan district attorney Deborah Tuerkheimer in The New York Times.

“In all, six women testified that Mr Weinstein sexually assaulted them, but only two of the cases were charged. Prosecutors had hoped that the other witnesses would establish a pattern of Mr. Weinstein preying on vulnerable women.

“Not all men accused of sexual assault will have left such a trail. Prosecutors often have the testimony of only one witness, which is typically not enough to persuade jurors, even if additional evidence corroborates the victim’s account. Jurors often are unduly skeptical when judging sexual assault allegations. This “credibility discount” has historically pervaded the criminal justice system and persists, even in the age of #MeToo.”

The allegations against Harvey Weinstein triggered similar allegations against powerful men around the world, and led to the ousting of many of them from their positions. It also led a great number of women to share their own experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or rape on social media under the hashtag #MeToo. The New York Times and The New Yorker were awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their coverage of Weinstein, who was sacked by The Weinstein Company, expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other professional associations.

The jury of seven men and five women took five days to find Weinstein guilty of sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her and the third-degree rape (lack of consent) of an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013, AP News reported. Weinstein pleaded not guilty.

He was acquitted on the most serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, each carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison. Both of those charges hinged on the testimony of Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein barged into her apartment, raped her and forcibly performed oral sex on her in the mid-nineties.

“Harvey is unbelievably strong. He took it like a man,” defence attorney Donna Rotunno said. “He knows that we will continue to fight for him, and we know that this is not over.” Another of his lawyers, Arthur Aidala, quoted Weinstein as telling as his legal team: “I’m innocent. I’m innocent. I’m innocent. How could this happen in America?”

Judge James Burke ordered Weinstein be taken to jail immediately. Court officers surrounded Weinstein, handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom via a side door without the use of the walker he relied on for much of the trial. The judge said he will ask that Weinstein, who had been free on bail since his arrest nearly two years ago, be held in the infirmary after his lawyers said he needs medical attention following unsuccessful back surgery.

Sentencing was set for 11 March.