By Tom Hals and Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) – – In order to secure the rape and sexual assault convictions that will send Harvey Weinstein to prison, prosecutors called a parade of witnesses who portrayed the former Hollywood producer as a man who abused his power to prey on younger women.
Bolstering the case of former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, was the damning testimony from three other women with no connection to attacks at the center of the case.
Actress Lauren Young, model Tarale Wulff and costume designer Dawn Dunning described for the jury what prosecutors characterized as Weinstein’s signature pattern of behavior: luring women to hotel rooms or his apartment to discuss film roles, then attacking them.
They were called as “prior bad act” witnesses, allowed in sex crime cases to show a pattern of conduct and to counter a defendant who says the encounters were consensual, said Lisa Linsky, a former sex crimes prosecutor.
Young, for example, told the jury that the film producer trapped her in a hotel bathroom in 2013, groped her breasts, and told her: “This is what all the actresses do to make it.”
“It’s so powerful to have these witnesses telling similar stories of being attacked,” said criminal defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt, who was not involved in the case. “It leads to the conclusion that he’s a bad person,” he said.
Weinstein’s lawyers said they would appeal but it was not immediately clear what approach they would take.
The conviction was a historic victory for the #MeToo movement that inspired women to go public with accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in business, entertainment, news media and politics.
Prosecutors accused Weinstein, 67, of sexually assaulting Haleyi and raping Mann. Haleyi testified that in 2006, Weinstein lunged at her, backed her into a bedroom and forcibly performed oral sex on her.
Mann said that soon after meeting Weinstein, she entered into an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she testified, he raped her in 2013.
The defense countered that the two women had consensual sex with Weinstein and used him to advance their careers.
During withering cross-examination, Weinstein’s lawyers homed in on the fact that neither of them had gone to the police about the encounters.
They zeroed in on contact the women had with Weinstein after the incidents. Haleyi acknowledged accepting trips to Los Angeles and London from Weinstein, partly because she needed work, and signing messages to him “lots of love” and “peace and love.”
Mann said her relationship with Weinstein continued for years after he raped her.
Apparently anticipating this testimony, prosecutors called an expert, forensic psychiatrist Barbara Ziv, to testify about “rape myths.”
Ziv said that most victims of rape and sexual assault know their attackers and do not report the incidents, and that many maintain relationships with their attackers. The three women called to bolster the case brought the academic research to life, reinforcing for the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that these were nonconsensual incidents.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The producer of such award-winning films as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love” has denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
Actress Annabella Sciorra was called to make the case that Weinstein was a serial predator, the basis of the most serious charge – the charge for which the jury acquitted him.
“Sopranos” actress Sciorra testified that Weinstein entered her apartment late at night uninvited after they had dined together and violently raped her.
Despite the prosecutors’ failure to convict Weinstein on that charge, which carried a maximum life sentence, legal experts said it would have been difficult to secure the convictions they did without the other three women’s testimony.
“It was a brilliant move by the prosecutors to shore up a case with major problems,” Callan said.