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Harvey Weinstein loses appeal of NY rape conviction

A panel of judges refused Thursday to overturn the March 2020 verdict that stands as one of the #MeToo movement's top success stories.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein claimed he was unfairly disadvantaged at his 2020 rape trial by abundant witness testimony about his bad behavior.

A New York appeals court disagreed Thursday, ruling that the 1901 case People v. Molineux gives the government special authority to bring in evidence that supports the charged conduct, even from people who did not witness the crime at issue.

“The Molineux evidence was designed to show that defendant did not see the women as romantic partners or friends, and that his interest in them and their talents was feigned,” the ruling states. “In other words, the People proposed to show through the uncharged acts evidence that defendant’s goal at all times was to position the women in such a way that he could have sex with them, and that whether the women consented or not was irrelevant to him. ...

"The fact that each of the women reacted negatively to defendant’s advances was helpful to demonstrate to the jury that defendant knew that a woman would not consent to having sex with him merely as a quid pro quo for the assistance he could provide them in their professional career," the ruling continues.

A Manhattan jury had deliberated for five days before delivering a split verdict in February 2020 that convicted Weinstein of committing a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape but acquitted him on the more serious offense of rape in the first degree and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

The charged crimes related to accusations against Weinstein brought by aspiring actor Jessica Mann, former "Project Runway" production assistant Mimi Haleyi and "Sopranos" actor Annabella Sciorra. Another three women testified at Weinstein's trial about their own interactions with the producer, though his trial did not include charges related to them.

On March 11, 2020 — the same date that the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic — U.S. Judge James Burke sentenced Weinstein to 23 years in prison.

Weinstein, 70, brought his appeal from a California detention center where he has been jailed since last year while awaiting another trial on charges he assaulted five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills during the decade between 2004 and 2013.

Weinstein plans to fight Thursday's ruling before New York's highest judicial authority, the Court of Appeals.

 “We are disappointed and sad for Mr. Weinstein, Obviously,” Weinstein´s publicist Juda Engelmayer said on Thursday. “What this certainly does is destroy any real opportunity for an objective jury and a fair trial in Los Angeles”

The ruling by the New York Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, was penned by Associate Justice Angela Mazzarelli for a five-member panel.

In Weinstein’s April 2021 appeal of the conviction, his attorneys called the Molineux evidence presented at trial “excessive,” saying it “served no legitimate non-propensity purpose and was designed solely to breed contempt for Weinstein and distract the jury from fairly evaluating the evidence on the charged offenses.”

The New York City prosecutors who handled Weinstein’s criminal case celebrated the appellate ruling.

“We are gratified by today’s decision, which upholds a monumental conviction that changed the way prosecutors and courts approach complex prosecutions of sexual predators,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement Thursday morning. “I am grateful to the brave survivors in this case for their remarkable courage and candor, as well as the jurors who dedicated their time and effort to securing a fair and just verdict. Finally, I thank the numerous members of my Office, from the trial team to the appellate attorneys, who have dedicated years to securing justice in this case.”

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