The Prosecution Made Its Case Against Harvey Weinstein. Did The Jury Believe It?

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon arrives at New York City Criminal Court on January 22, 2020 in New York City - Getty - H 2020
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Day after day, as police sirens blared through windows that were propped open to cool down a sweltering Manhattan courtroom, the 15 men and women impaneled to determine Harvey Weinstein's fate listened.

They listened as six women, sometimes two in a day, sat on the witness stand and talked — some for the first time publicly — of being sexually assaulted by the former Hollywood mogul. They listened as the ex-fiancé of one woman, Dawn Dunning, testified that Dunning was "shocked, upset, angry, but overall appalled" the night she returned home from an alleged run-in with Weinstein. They heard a friend of another woman, Lauren Young, say that she was "hysterically crying" upon returning from a meeting with the former movie mogul.

They were only feet away when one woman, Jessica Mann, cried so inconsolably that the day's proceedings were ended abruptly.

The jury listened carefully and they took notes, filling out page after page in large notebooks that they are required to leave on their seats at the end of every day to be collected and returned in the morning.

But, as they listened, few of the jurors betrayed their emotions. (Only when shown a naked photograph of the defendant on Feb. 5 did clear physical reactions emerge from some of them.)

In perhaps the most highly anticipated trial of the #MeToo era, even after 12 days of witness testimony, there's no way to tell whether the government has successfully convinced the jury of Weinstein's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"All of us love to read tea leaves, but I couldn't draw a conclusion from this," attorney Gloria Allred tells The Hollywood Reporter when asked whether she thinks the witness testimony convinced the jurors.

For lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi and fellow ADA Meghan Hast, a key element of their strategy has been repetition. Woman after woman, story after story, detail after detail, the jurors have listened to emotional testimony, punctuated by tears and recriminations. Some of the accounts have been remarkable in their similarity.

With every witness, Hast has asked the same few questions — all the more important to establish that the sexual encounters, which the defense largely does not deny happened, were wanted by the women.

"Did you have any interest in Harvey Weinstein romantically?" Hast has asked. "Did you have any interest in Harvey Weinstein sexually? Did you act interested in Harvey Weinstein romantically or sexually in any way?" The women have uniformly said no.

Hast has largely assumed the task of drawing out the accounts of the prosecution's witnesses, while Illuzzi has handled motions and has taken a more active role in cross-examining the defense's witnesses.

While Weinstein has been charged in connection with only the accusations made by Miriam "Mimi" Haley and Mann, prosecutors have leaned heavily on the three so-called "prior bad acts” witnesses to establish a consistent theme of non-consensuality and a pattern of behavior. (The actress Annabella Sciorra testified on Jan. 23 as a witness on the issue of predatory sexual assault.)

"I thought they were going to bring people in who would be very emotional and would tell their story," says veteran Hollywood attorney Mark Geragos. "I think they did exactly what I expected."

Also as he expected, the prosecutors have sought to quickly acknowledge and explain the context for friendly emails sent by Mann and Haley in the years after the alleged assaults, which have been seized on by the defense. On the third day of prosecution witness testimony, they called forensic psychologist Dr. Barbara Ziv to dispel common "rape myths" for the jurors. "Sometimes women will have subsequent contact with the perpetrator because they can't really believe that this happened to them," she said.

But Geragos, who argued in a preview for THR that the case "will be won or lost in jury selection," says the demographics of the Weinstein jury are favorable to the defense. "What's going to make or break you is whether you have someone who is a general or a lieutenant who is going to drive the deliberations," he says, something that happens "100 times out of 100 times."

Allred, who represents three of the six women who accused Weinstein of sexual assault from the witness stand, says the prosecution "presented a very strong case." She adds, "I do think that the witness strategy for my clients has been effective and that the defense has been unsuccessful in discrediting my clients."

The veteran attorney was particularly impressed by Illuzzi's Feb. 6 cross-examination of Weinstein friend and producer Paul Feldsher, the defense's first witness, which she observed from the front row of the court.

Illuzzi repeatedly and forcefully pressed Feldsher on emails and text messages he had sent to Weinstein in which he professed his loyalty and slammed Sciorra, a one-time friend, as "full of shit." Caught off guard, Feldsher admitted that he "had no idea [his] text messages would end up in the court room" and lashed out at the veteran prosecutor, drawing occasional admonitions from the judge during his testimony.

A few hours later, speaking as she prepared to take off on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, Allred says "the prosecution did an outstanding job in discrediting him. That was one of the best cross-examinations I've ever seen of any witness."