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On Wednesday, Harvey Weinstein’s legal team will tell a panel of seven male jurors and five female jurors why they should ultimately find the defendant not-guilty.
While their trial strategy won’t become clear until opening arguments begin, the former movie mogul’s lawyers previewed several of their key arguments during two days of formal jury selection on Thursday and Friday.
On Thursday, Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis asked a panel of 20 potential jurors the following questions: “Does anybody on this jury think that it’s possible that an individual can say they were sexually assaulted when they really weren’t? Does anybody think it’s possible that someone can have sex with someone they may not find attractive for reasons other than love? Does anybody think that a person who had consensual sex can change their story years later to turn someone into a pariah and say what was once consensual and then say it’s something different?”
In doing so, Cheronis suggested that Weinstein’s defense will argue that the women who have accused him of sexual assault aren’t telling the truth and were simply leveraging sexual relationships to advance their career.
“Does anybody think that an individual who is a young actress or actor might for whatever reason potentially have a sexual interaction with an older man for a reason other than love?” Cheronis asked another jury panel on Friday.
The Chicago-based attorney also set up what will be a key piece of the defense’s case: friendly communications “between the accusers and Mr. Weinstein after the alleged acts.”
Arthur Aidala, another Weinstein lawyer, told a panel of 20 prospects jurors that they would be trying a “he said, she said” case that lacks video or audio evidence, and cautioned them against taking the prosecution’s side by virtue of the sheer number of women who may take the stand to accuse their client of bad behavior.
Cheronis also attempted to strike a 26-year-old potential juror because of her age, arguing that she was unfamiliar with what life was like in the 1990s and the different norms of the era — another possible defense argument. “People dated differently and they reached out differently, and there weren’t smartphones,” he said.
On the other side, lawyers for the prosecution repeatedly reminded potential jurors that the testimony of a single individual is legally sufficient to find a defendant guilty of sexual violence, even in the absence of physical evidence. “We’re going to present you what we believe is corroboration for each and every witness, but at some point you have to really believe the person who is testifying,” assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi told a panel of potential jurors.
She also teed up the state’s rebuttal to a likely defense argument by telling jurors that they should not judge the behavior of sexual assault victims based on their conventional understanding of how individuals in this situation should act.
“Scrutinize the hell out of the evidence,” Illuzzi said. “But, really, I ask you to consider the fact that merely because somebody goes to work and puts on a great face, that doesn’t necessarily dictate what’s going on at all.” Or, as assistant district attorney Meghan Hast put it to the possible jurors: “Is everybody open to the idea that people’s reactions in different circumstances might be different?”
Hast also previewed the prosecution’s counter-argument to the defense’s possible focus on the time gap between the alleged assaults and when they were reported. One likely witness, actress Annabella Sciorra, claims she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in 1993 or 1994.
“These women did not report the crime right away,” Hast told the potential jurors. “Again, that’s something you can consider. But are you open to listening to them about why that is?”
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