Harvey Weinstein awaits trial accused of rape

By Michael Sisak, Associated Press

Jury selection is scheduled to start this week in New York City in a case involving allegations Harvey Weinstein raped one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

It is the only criminal case to arise from dozens of allegations against the Oscar-winning film producer.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty and maintains any sexual activity was consensual.

At least one Hollywood actress is expected to testify against Weinstein and several other accusers have said they plan to attend the trial, which could last about four weeks once a jury is picked.

It comes more than two years after a wave of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein ushered in the #MeToo movement

Weinstein’s lawyer has argued the case is weak and said she plans to aggressively cross-examine accusers.

“Just because a woman makes a claim doesn’t mean it’s true,” lawyer Donna Rotunno said after a pretrial hearing last month.

“Just because Mr Weinstein has been accused of a crime, that does not mean he’s guilty.”

Prosecutors have not commented publicly on the case since around the time of Weinstein’s arrest and initial court appearances in 2018.

In a statement issued at the time, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr praised the “extraordinary courage” of Weinstein’s accusers said he was confident jurors would reject defence attacks on their credibility.

Weinstein’s trial is expected to share some similarities with the first big trial of the #MeToo era.

That ended in Bill Cosby’s conviction for drugging and molesting a woman in 2004.

As in that case, prosecutors are angling to make Weinstein’s trial a referendum on his behaviour with women over many decades, not just in the two instances that led to criminal charges.

Annabella Sciorra has accused Weinstein of rape in the 1990s (PA)

Prosecutors had charged Weinstein with assaulting a third woman but later dropped that charge after it was alleged that a police detective had coached a corroborating witness.

The most serious charges against Weinstein, two counts of predatory sexual assault that carry a mandatory life sentence, require that prosecutors demonstrate Weinstein had a habit of violating women.

For that, prosecutors plan to call actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein forced himself inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993 or 1994 and raped her after she starred in a film for his movie studio.

But they also want jurors to hear from some of the more than 75 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault.

The first allegations were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.

Weinstein has shuffled through a series of lawyers before settling on a team led by Ms Rotunno.

His trial is expected to be watched closely as a measure of the #MeToo movement’s success and by authorities in other jurisdictions that may seek to bring charges against him.

Los Angeles prosecutors recently said they are reviewing eight cases accusing Weinstein of sexual assault.