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Harvey Weinstein was once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Over 40 years in the industry, he launched the careers of Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, making Oscar-winning films one after another.
But on Monday, Weinstein was wheeled from a holding cell into a ninth floor courtroom of the Clara Shortridge Foltz criminal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to face a second trial on charges that he was a sexual predator who wielded his power to serially rape aspiring talent in Hollywood. The prosecution told the jury of eight accusers who will testify about violent encounters with the former movie mogul from 1991 to 2013.
“Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another,” said prosecutor Paul Thompson, pointing to a presentation with photos of the women, in his opening statement.
Thompson recounted graphic details about multiple assaults. In one, he said Weinstein barged into his accuser’s hotel room, where he pulled the actress into the bathroom, pushed her over the sink and raped her as she “tried to show him pictures of her kids.” In another attack, Weinstein backed his masseuse into a corner, reached inside her shirt to grope her breasts and masturbated onto the floor, the prosecutor stated. Weinstein told her it was “completely normal” and that “he’d done it with so many people,” Thompson said.
In an encounter with accuser Jennifer Siebel Newsom — wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who revealed herself as one of the four Jane Doe accusers in a statement through her attorney — Thompson said Weinstein raped her after he referred to a “list of A-List actresses whose careers he supposedly made” as “his voice moved from pleading to aggressive and demanding.”
Defense attorney Mark Werskman said in his opening statement that Weinstein’s accusers are lying. Two of the attacks are entirely made up, he argued, while the others were “transactional sex.” He said Siebel Newsom would “be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood” if she wasn’t married to the governor.
A jury of nine men and three women will delve into the accusations in a trial expected to last until late November. They will vet the credibility of nine accusers, five of whom will discuss uncharged sexual assaults to show that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of sexual predation, and communications between them and Weinstein that may appear to be friendly. Weinstein is charged with 11 counts of sex crimes, including rape, in connection with the assaults of five women from 2004 to 2013, which cumulatively carry a sentence of up to 140 years. He’s serving a 23-year sentence after being convicted in New York.
The prosecution walked the jury through Weinstein’s method of assaulting women. Thompson said Weinstein met Siebel Newsom at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, when she was a “powerless actor trying to make her way in Hollywood.” After the event, Weinstein invited her to “discuss her career” at a hotel.
Siebel Newsom was caught off guard when Weinstein’s aides left the suite they held the meeting, Thompson told the jury. He said Weinstein subsequently made an advance, which Siebel Newsom declined. Then, he pushed her onto the bed, Thompson said.
“She couldn’t get any words out because of her fear,” said Thompson, who claimed that Weinstein consistently isolated women in bathrooms across his assaults.
Like Weinstein’s other accusers, Thompson said that Siebel Newsom was forced to maintain contact with Weinstein for the sake of her career. This was the case of Jane Doe No. 3, an aspiring screenwriter and massage therapist who often worked with celebrities and athletes. After giving Weinstein a massage, Thompson alleged Weinstein backed her into a corner in the bathroom, groped her breasts and masturbated. She agreed to continue meeting with Weinstein after the assault, Thompson said, because he offered her a book deal. She later asked him to meet with her boss, who wanted an introduction.
“It’s going to cost you,” Weinstein responded, demanding she watch him masturbate, according to Thompson.
Mel Gibson, who the accuser disclosed the assault to, is expected to testify later in the trial for the prosecution.
Judge Lisa Lench ended the first day of testimony early on Monday after Jane Doe No. 1 broke down in tears and became unresponsive to questions from Thompson about her encounter with Weinstein. At the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival in 2013, the model and actress testified that Weinstein raped her in her hotel bathroom.
She’s expected to resume testimony on Tuesday.
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