NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein faced a jury Wednesday in a landmark moment for the # MeToo movement, with prosecutors painting him in graphic detail as a sexual predator who used his movie-magnate stature to abuse women.
“He was not just a titan in Hollywood. He was a rapist,” prosecutor Meghan Hast told the jury of seven men and five women at the start of the former film executive’s rape trial.
Weinstein’s lawyers were to deliver their opening statement later in the day.
The opening of the trial more than two years after a barrage of allegations against Weinstein gave rise to #MeToo was seen by activists as a milestone in the global reckoning over sexual misconduct by powerful men.
Weinstein’s defense, though, has portrayed the trial as a time to confront what they see as a climate of accusation run amok. His lawyer Donna Rotunno warned in a Newsweek op-ed last month: “Long before you stand before a judge, the claims of a few can upend your life and destroy your reputation.”
Weinstein, 67, said little as he arrived at court. Asked whether he believed he would have a fair trial, he said yes: “I have good lawyers.”
Guided by aides and lawyers, he wasn’t using the walker he has leaned on lately after a summer car crash and subsequent back surgery. He said he was feeling better.
The once-powerful and feared executive who brought to the screen such Oscar-winning movies as “Pulp Fiction,” “The King’s Speech,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chicago” has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual. He could get life in prison if convicted
Though dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexually harassing or assaulting them over the years, the New York charges are limited to two allegations: that Weinstein raped a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman in his apartment in 2006.
Backed by expected testimony from four other accusers — including actress Annabella Sciorra — prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a monster who used his power to lure the accusers into encounters with offers of career help. When he got them alone, he would undress and force himself on them, Hast said in her opening statement.
“They will each describe their fear, their shame and their humiliation — the struggle each went through to push their trauma down and show a brave face to the world,” she said.
Hast detailed allegations that Weinstein sexually assaulted Sciorra around 1993 after giving the “Sopranos” actress a ride home to her Manhattan apartment and pushing his way inside.
“She told him to get out. She told him no. But Harvey Weinstein was undeterred,” Hast said.
Weinstein’s lawyers plan to go on the offensive, pointing to “dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails to Mr. Weinstein” they say show he and some of his accusers were in consenting relationships. Defense lawyer Damon Cheronis has said some of the women “also bragged about being in a sexual relationship with him.”
Prosecutors are seeking to counter any impression that continued contact could undermine the women’s allegations. Weinstin’s accuser in the 2006 allegation, Mimi Haleyi stayed in touch with him, “trying to normalize the situation,” Hast said Wednesday. “As for Harvey Weinstein, he knew he had successfully silenced her.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they come forward publicly.
Weinstein’s trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said. Judging from the arduous two weeks of jury selection, it could be a hotbed of protests and intense media coverage.
In a failed last-minute push to get the trial moved, Weinstein’s lawyers said a mob’s chants of “The rapist is you!” at street level could be heard in the courtroom, 15 floors above.