LOS ANGELES — The second trial for Harvey Weinstein on sex crime charges is drawing to a close, as jurors in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom heard final arguments on Thursday.
The jurors had already heard weeks of emotional, graphic testimony from women who accused the former film producer of sexually assaulting them, as well as aggressive cross-examinations of the women, during which Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers sought to highlight discrepancies in their stories.
Four women have accused Mr. Weinstein, 70, of assaulting them in Los Angeles County between 2004 and 2013. He faces two counts of forcible rape and five counts of sexual assault.
In 2020, he was convicted of rape and criminal sexual assault in New York, though he was acquitted of the two most serious charges related to predatory sexual assault.
He still has 21 years left to serve in prison from his New York conviction, but the state’s highest court agreed in August to consider his appeal. The possibility that he could win release there has increased the stakes for the trial in California, where he will face a life sentence if convicted. The women who have testified are among more than 90 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty in the Los Angeles case.
Prosecutors tried to show that Mr. Weinstein had used the same strategy to assault vulnerable women.
Los Angeles County prosecutors have portrayed Mr. Weinstein as a “titan of Hollywood” who used his power to prey on vulnerable women who believed that he could give them a big break into the industry.
The prosecution called 44 witnesses, which included the four accusers identified by the court as Jane Does 1 through 4, as well as several women who said they had been assaulted by Mr. Weinstein and were allowed to testify to show a pattern of abuse, though their accounts were not tied to the charges.
“There is no question that Harvey Weinstein was a predator,” Marlene Martinez, a deputy district attorney, said during her closing argument while referring to a photo of a wolf projected on a screen. “And, like all predators, he had a method.”
First, Ms. Martinez said, the producer would pick an unknown young woman from a crowd. Then, he would invite her to meet at a hotel to talk about her career.
During the meeting, often while mentioning his fame and influence, he would invite the woman to his hotel suite. Or, in some instances, a female aide would usher the woman into his room and then leave, Ms. Martinez said.
“For this predator, hotels were his trap,” she said. “Confined within those walls, victims were not able to run from his hulking mass.”
After the assaults, Mr. Weinstein would try to recast the encounters as “transactional,” by following up on his offers to advance the women’s careers, Ms. Martinez said. He talked about a book deal with a masseuse and about film roles with others, and he invited them to Hollywood events.
“He always covered his tracks,” Ms. Martinez said.
Defense lawyers focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of accusers.
Throughout the trial, Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers focused on ways in which the accounts of the witnesses changed over multiple interviews. The lawyers also sought specific details from the accusers and questioned their inability to remember some facts.
In cross-examining an actress who said she was assaulted in 2013, Alan Jackson, one of the defense lawyers, took issue with the timeline she had given the authorities, as well as why she had not initially remembered the name of the hotel where she said the assault had occurred. She said that she had been distraught during her initial interviews and that she had pushed the incident out of her memory.
As Mr. Jackson pressed further, the woman said, “I was sure that I was sexually assaulted.”
Mark Werksman, another defense lawyer, challenged Jennifer Siebel Newsom multiple times about her past statements that she had been raped in 2005 by Mr. Weinstein.
Ms. Siebel Newsom, the wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, said during her testimony that when she had initially talked to detectives, she had not known that her words would be used in a court case. She also said that she had locked away the incident in her mind for years and that it had taken time to unpack what had happened.
“Putting it in a box was a way of putting away my sadness, my fear, my trauma, so I could move forward with my life,” Ms. Siebel Newsom said.
In his closing argument on Thursday, Mr. Jackson said the case came down to whether jurors believed the women.
“‘Take my word for it’ — five words that sum up the entirety of the prosecution’s case,” Mr. Jackson said. “Everything else was smoke and mirrors.”
He told the jury that the women’s emotional distress about the encounters may be real, but he said it’s a result of hindsight.
“What about before the 2017 dog pile started on Mr. Weinstein — what were they saying then?” Mr. Jackson said. “I don’t know how to say it more gentle than this, but fury does not make fact. Tears do not make truth.”
The defense team was combative from the start.
Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers set the tone early last month with a blistering opening argument that portrayed the accusers as opportunists who changed their accounts as the #MeToo movement exploded.
Despite the potential risk of offending jurors, Mr. Werksman used disparaging terms at times to describe the women testifying against Mr. Weinstein.
Mr. Werksman said that Ms. Siebel Newsom described herself as a #MeToo victim because “otherwise she’d be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.” Mr. Werksman also described each woman in the case as a “struggling fill-in-the-blank” who was looking for a break in the industry.
The lawyers attributed the film producer’s behavior to a Hollywood culture they said had been transactional for years. “Everyone did it,” Mr. Werksman said. “He did it. They did it. Because each wanted something from one another.”
Ms. Siebel Newsom could be pivotal to the case.
Ms. Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker, has become an integral part of the case against Mr. Weinstein because of her accusations that he raped her in 2005 at a Beverly Hills hotel.
In graphic detail, she testified that a meeting to discuss her acting career turned ugly when he dragged or carried her from a couch to a bed and forced her to have sex. A day after The New York Times published its 2017 investigation into Mr. Weinstein’s pattern of sexual misconduct, Ms. Siebel Newsom described her own experience in an essay for the HuffPost.
In 2005, Ms. Siebel Newsom did not yet know Mr. Newsom, who was the mayor of San Francisco at the time. But the defense team has looked for opportunities to invoke the Democratic governor during the trial, starting with motions in October in which they asked the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench for permission to raise some of Mr. Newsom’s weakest moments.
Could they, for instance, reference his affair with his campaign manager’s wife that emerged in 2007? What about the Newsoms’ visit in 2020 to a dinner party at the French Laundry restaurant during pandemic restrictions? (Judge Lench limited or ruled against the use of both.)
During her two days of testimony, Ms. Siebel Newsom faced perhaps the most extensive questioning of the trial from prosecutors and the defense lawyers. At one point on the stand, after a succession of questions from Mr. Werksman, she choked up and said, “What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me.” Mr. Newsom was at the courthouse but not in the courtroom during her testimony.
The verdict isn’t easy to predict.
After the New York conviction, #MeToo supporters have been hoping for another victory in the Los Angeles case against Mr. Weinstein.
The prosecution had some challenges along the way, including the loss of a fifth accuser mid-trial; it was unclear why she did not appear. The woman’s accusations underpinned four of the original 11 charges against Mr. Weinstein, including some of the most severe. They included two counts each of rape and forcible oral copulation based on two separate incidents.
In the trial’s final days, the four charges were removed from the indictment, leaving seven counts in the amended filing.
Some of the accusers acknowledged differences between the initial accounts they provided to the authorities and their testimony in the current court case. But they said they were answering questions years earlier in a different context, without any notion that their words might resurface in a courtroom. And they said they had locked away painful memories and only now had begun to confront what happened in full.
Prosecutors called an expert witness, Dr. Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist, to testify that rape victims often get details wrong as they try to describe their traumatic experiences. Dr. Ziv also said, “It is not uncommon for individuals to have subsequent contact with their perpetrator.”
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