LOS ANGELES (CN) — Disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the poster boy of the #MeToo movement who has already been convicted of rape by a New York jury, went on trial in Los Angeles on charges he sexually assaulted four women, including two within days of each other.
Opening statements started Monday in a packed courtroom in downtown LA for the trial that is expected to last about four weeks or more.
The jury will hear testimony from eight women, Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said in his opening statement — four only identified as Jane Doe 1 through 4, who Weinstein is accused of assaulting in LA — and four corroborating witnesses whose experiences in other jurisdictions closely mirror the accusations of the four Doe victims.
Weinstein was the most powerful person in Hollywood at the time, and his victims were often young women trying to break into the entertainment industry and too scared that their fledgling careers would be destroyed if they dared to speak out or report the assaults, Thompson said.
"He was the king," the prosecutor said. "He was revered in Hollywood."
Weinstein, 70, sat with his lawyers in a dark suit and tie rather than the prison jumpsuit he has worn at pretrial hearings. He repeatedly monitored the gallery to see who was observing the trial.
The former Hollywood kingpin, who with his brother ran the hugely successfully Miramax production and distribution company, was convicted two years ago of assault and rape in New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison. That verdict was upheld on appeal this year, but New York's top court has agreed to review it as well.
Among the victims in the Los Angeles is Jane Doe 4, who the prosecutor said was the wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom. Thompson told the jury that Weinstein raped her at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills where he invited her "to discuss her career." Rather than meet with her at the hotel's restaurant, she was sent to his suite where she was left alone with him.
"In the aftermath Jane Doe 4 felt confused and ashamed," Thompson told the jury. "She thought that there was something wrong with her that allowed her to be victimized."
Thompson also told the jurors that all the purported victims will testify about Weinstein's anatomy, including scarring to his lower abdomen from surgery and that because of an infection his testicles were removed from his scrotum and put in his inner thighs.
During the prosecution's opening, the jury of 9 men and 3 women also heard lengthy recording made by a model, Ambra B., who went to the police in New York after Weinstein tried to assault her during a meeting at his office in 2015. She had a subsequent meeting with Weinstein at a hotel while wired with a microphone.
During the conversation, Weinstein can be heard relentlessly pleading and cajoling her to come up to his room to "relax" with him. At one point he tells her "don't ruin your friendship with me for five minutes." The police arrested Weinstein shortly thereafter.
The 2017 exposure of the years of sexual exploitation of women by Weinstein spawned the #MeToo movement that prompted many victims to come forward and tell their stories. The victims in the LA trial also didn't contact police until after the movement made it no longer necessary for them to hide their ordeals.
Weinstein's lawyer Mark Werksman told the jurors in his opening statement that the #MeToo movement meant that women, who before were willing to have sex with Weinstein in exchange for his help advancing their careers, now portray themselves as his victims.
Werksman referred to the Hollywood "casting couch" as the accepted norm for decades whereby men like Weinstein and up-and-coming young women looking to break into the entertainment industry engaged in what he said was consensual, transactional sex.
“Now look at him. He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think those beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot?" Werksman asked the jury. "No. They did it because he was powerful.”
He said the four Jane Does either completely fabricated or recast their accusations as assault and rape after the fact, noting none had gone to the police until after #MeToo movement gathered steam. Before then, some of them stayed in touch with Weinstein and continued to seek favors from him, he said.
Jane Doe 1, an Italian actress and model, took the stand and testified how Weinstein showed up at her hotel room after midnight when she was in LA in February 2013 for the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival where she briefly met him.
In often tearful testimony she recalled how Weinstein knocked on her hotel room and asked loudly to be let him because he wanted to talk to her even though she had previously, when the front desk had called to let her know she had visitor, said she didn't want to talk with him at that hour.
Doe 1, who was married and had three children, said she was confused and didn't understand what Weinstein was doing in her room and how he found out where she was staying at all. Weinstein suggested she give him a massage but she asked him to leave. Rather than leaving, Jane Doe 1 testified, Weinstein reclined on the bed and undid his pants, held her hand, and began to touch himself.
Weinstein then proceeded to take off his pants and forced her to perform oral sex on him, she told the jury. She was crying and choking but Weinstein didn't seem to care, she said. At that point in her testimony, Doe 1 sobbed on the witness stand and LA County Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench halted the trial for the day.Follow @edpettersson
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.