Two years and three months after women began publicly accusing the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, lighting a fire under the #MeToo movement, the fallen movie mogul will finally be confronted in court on Wednesday with allegations that he raped and sexually assaulted multiple women over many years.
Weinstein, 67, will be present in court 99 of the New York supreme court in Manhattan to hear the opening prosecution statement that is expected to outline an alleged pattern of predatory and coercive sexual behavior spanning decades. The prosecutors will show the jury a photo gallery of six women who will probably testify that he used his power – both physical and that which he wielded as an influential movie executive – to force them into unwanted sexual contact.
Weinstein’s fate now depends on the testimony of two of the six women who form the heart of the prosecution case. One woman alleges that he raped her in 2013 in a New York hotel; the other says he forced her into oral sexual contact in 2006.
Attached to those two witnesses are three counts against the film producer – two of rape and one of a criminal sex act. In addition there are two further counts of predatory sexual assault, which carry the most severe punishment of possible life in prison.
Prosecutors will be seeking to persuade the jury of seven men and five women that Weinstein displayed a pattern of predatory behavior. To that end they will be calling a further four witnesses who are not party to the criminal counts in themselves but have been enlisted as supporting cast, providing evidence of the defendant’s modus operandi.
The tactic is borrowed from the playbook of prosecutors who successfully put Bill Cosby on trial in 2018. Cosby, 82, is currently in a Pennsylvania prison cell serving a three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and sexually molesting a woman in 2004.
Once the prosecution case is laid out for the jury, Weinstein’s defense team will give its opening statement. Defense lawyers, led by Chicago-based Donna Rotunno, have already given clues as to their strategy.
They are expected to show the jury a PowerPoint presentation which will quote from personal emails and texts between some of the six female witnesses and Weinstein. The communications will be used to sow doubt in jurors’ minds over whether the sexual contact was consensual.
Weinstein has denied all counts leveled against him. He has also “unequivocally denied” all the allegations raised by about 105 women in total who have claimed he sexually harassed them or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct.
The start of the Weinstein trial proper represents a dramatic fall in the fortunes of the once-powerful figure. At his peak he was credited as a major influence on independent movies who was honored with six best picture Oscars for films that included sex, lies and videotape and Pulp Fiction.
Stories about Weinstein told by many women to the New York Times and the New Yorker helped to kick-start the #MeToo movement. But the judge presiding over the case, James Burke, has firmly instructed jurors to keep the wider societal discussion about sexual harassment out of their minds and to focus only on the facts.
“This is not a referendum on #MeToo,” he has told them.