Weinstein Prosecutors Describe Mogul as Serial Sexual Predator in Opening Remarks

Harvey Weinstein arrives with his attorney Donna Rotunno to court January 22, 2020 in- Getty-H 2020
John Lamparski/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, in graphic and extremely specific detail, a prosecutor outlined the case the State of New York will make against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in his sex crimes trial.

“Over the course of the testimony, you will come to see that the man seated on that side of the court room, despite what your eyes are looking at, is not a harmless old man,” assistant district attorney Meghan Hast told the jurors, but is instead a “sexual predator and rapist.”

Hast said that Weinstein "used his power and prestige in the entertainment industry" to ensure the "silence" of his alleged victims. "You will see that the defendant kept his rape victims close, close as he could, to make sure they couldn't report it," she said.

The prosecutor revealed the identity of the second woman — in addition to Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi — who is part of the case against Weinstein: an aspiring actress named Jessica Mann, who met Weinstein in 2013 as she tried to get her career off the ground.

Hast also told the jury about the “prior bad acts” witnesses who will serve to buttress the state’s case. In addition to Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra, the list of testifying witnesses will feature three one-time aspiring actresses: Dawn Dunning, Tara Ley Wolf and Lauren Young.

In addition to telling jurors about the sexual crimes that the women claim Weinstein committed, the prosecutor told the jury that the State will explain — over the course of the trial — why they should not interpret friendly communications with Weinstein as evidence that the relationships were consensual.

Mann, she said, maintained a friendly relationship with Weinstein even after she alleges that he sexually assaulted her. “She tried to have some sort of relationship with the defendant,” Hast said. “Over the next few months [and] years, she continued to see him. You will learn that Jessica Mann felt trapped. She felt that there was no way to get out without suffering — her friends, her career, or worse, physical harm. She could do this, she thought. Maybe he really did think she was talented. Maybe I can just grin and bear it. He became more demanding and violent, more violent and disgusting, so disgusting. Jessica Mann tried to put on a brave face, pretending to the world that nothing was wrong. All the while, you will learn, she was dying inside."

Haleyi returned to Weinstein after having an encounter that she described as a sexual assault. “She thought when she went that she could somehow take the power back, but she was dealing with a sexual predator,” Hast said. “She left feeling ashamed, stupid and worthless.”

Summing up her case to the jurors, Hast told them: "Ultimately, this trial is about the defendant's desire to conquest. It's for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable."

Shortly after noon, Weinstein attorney Damon Cheronis stood before the jurors and told them they have been misled by the prosecution. "What we just heard from Ms. Hast was truly a narrative that was spun to explain things that were inexplicable," he said. "What you're going to see is going to be shocking based on opening statements and what you've just heard."

Cheronis said that Hast's arguments are untrue. "What Ms. Hast just told you doesn’t hold water," he said. "It’s not true. We’ve been waiting patiently to tell you the truth in this case. We’ve been waiting patiently as we’ve heard the word 'predator' used. This is the time where we get to tell you what happened."

Over the course of the trial, Cheronis said that Weinstein's team will prove that his relationships with the women who will be testifying were consensual.

"They are trying to shift around the inexplicable," Cheronis said of the women. "The truth doesn’t change when the articles comes out in 2017, and what we are going to do throughout the course of this trial is to show you the truth. 'Victim' is a conclusion that is only made after the case. It’s your job to be patient and to wait for after the cross-examinations. We are going to ask real questions in this case. ... It’s not going to show that Harvey Weinstein was a predator to Jessica Mann. Quite the contrary. It's not going to show that he was a predator to Miriam, quite the contrary."

Cheronis showed the jurors email messages that were sent by Mann to Weinstein. In one September 2013 message, Mann told him, "You have mastered storytelling and continually outdoing yourself and the competition. You are the bar!"

"Members of the jury, you are going to ask yourself: What is going on?" Cheronis said. "Those are her words. You are going to see an actual loving relationship in hundreds of emails and communications between Harvey Weinstein and Jessica Mann. You are going to see it, and when you see it, you're going to ask urself, 'What is going on? Is this man guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? No.'"

Cheronis told the jurors that Weinstein's case will be aided by the introduction of Mann's "diary," which are phone notes she made to herself. "You can lie to anybody," he said. "You can't lie to yourself."

Weinstein was expressionless for most of Hast's presentation, either looking down or at the screen displaying the PowerPoint slides she used. During the defense's opening statement, he appeared to be chewing something.

On Wednesday morning, for the first time since his trial began on Jan. 6, Weinstein walked to the counsel's table without the aid of a walker. 

At least one prosecution witness was expected to be called and cross-examined on Wednesday.

Hast, the state's attorney, told jurors that some of the testimony and evidence — which could include actual photographs — will be graphic. Mann, she said, will describe the liquid that was emitted by Weinstein due to an injected medicine he used for erectile dysfunction — "something vile and unforgettable."