MANHATTAN (CN) – A previously unnamed victim was revealed Wednesday as oral arguments kicked off in Harvey Weinstein’s long-awaited criminal trial in Manhattan Supreme Court on rape and sexual assault charges.
Anticipating a six-week long jury trial, attorneys presented conflicting versions of events during their opening remarks, framing the Hollywood producer’s relationships with his alleged victims.
The famed Miramax producer faces a life sentence if convicted of five felony charges, including two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of criminal sexual act in the first degree, rape in the first degree, and rape in the third degree.
Before a packed courtroom on the 15th floor of the criminal courthouse, Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told jurors the evidence will show the 67-year old movie mogul was a sexual predator and a rapist.
“At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear that the man seated right there is not just a tycoon in Hollywood, he was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders,” Hast said Wednesday.
Hast first described how Weinstein met actress Annabella Sciorra in the early 1990s, on the heels of the Brooklyn-born actress’ rising fame from roles in Spike Lee’s romantic drama “Jungle Fever” and the psychological thriller “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.”
Hast then chronicled in graphic detail an incident in the winter of 1993-94 when Weinstein allegedly used his heft to push into Sciorra’s Gramercy park apartment, pinned down and violently raped the 110-pound actress and soiled her nightgown.
The former "Sopranos" star is not a named complainant, but her testimony at trial will support the two counts of predatory sexual assault brought by the Manhattan district attorney to show that Weinstein is a repeat sex offender.
Hast next introduced another victim, Jessica Mann, who until Wednesday had remained an unnamed “Jane Doe” in court proceedings and documents.
Hast described multiple incidents in which Weinstein allegedly overpowered and assaulted the would-be actress from a dairy farm in Washington state.
Weinstein first forced oral sex on Mann at a Los Angeles hotel and later raped her at the Doubletree Hotel on 51st Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, Hast told jurors.
Mann observed Weinstein injecting erection medicine into his genitals before he forced himself on to her at the Doubletree, Hast said.
Since his arrest, Weinstein has denied that any of the alleged sex acts were nonconsensual.
Chicago-based attorney Damon Cheronis delivered opening arguments for the defense.
Cheronis told jurors the defense intends to show “real-time communications” between Weinstein and the alleged victims that will be evidence of ongoing consensual relationships rather than the predatory sexual assault scenarios laid out by the prosecution.
“I promise you that if you drown out the noise … you are going to know what Ms. Hast told you doesn’t hold water,” Cheronis told jurors Wednesday afternoon.
Punctuating his arguments with lots of hand gesturing and intermittent fist pumping, Cheronis repeatedly referred to Weinstein with the chummy-casual “Harv.”
Occasionally invoking a folksy Midwest accent of his native Second City, Cheronis urged the jurors to use their own “God-given New York City common sense.”
Cheronis told jurors they would be shown two realities at trial and “what you’re going to see is going to be shocking.”
A slide accompanying Cheronis’ opening arguments listed correspondence evidence to include “emails, text messages, diary entries, psychic readings.”
Poring through a timeline of Mann’s communications with Weinstein, Cheronis told jurors that Mann referred to him as a “casual boyfriend” and then highlighted a Feb. 28, 2017, text message where Mann wrote to Weinstein: “I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that is not how you talk to your predator,” Cheronis said.
Cheronis dismissed Sciorra’s version of events wholesale.
“You’re going to hear that when she initially spoke to prosecutors; she said, ‘I didn’t report it because didn’t think it was rape,’” Cheronis told jurors.
In October 2018, Weinstein’s defense team, at the time led by high-powered attorney Benjamin Brafman who since withdrew as counsel, succeeded at their bid to have a count dropped entirely from the case.
The dropped count related to a forced oral sex incident that actress Lucia Evans described in Ronan Farrow’s explosive reporting on Weinstein for The New Yorker in 2017.
Following opening arguments, the prosecution called former The Weinstein Company board member Lance Maerov as their first witness on Wednesday afternoon.Follow @jruss_jruss
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