LOS ANGELES—In what was poised to serve as a fresh blow at violent male predators, prosecutors on Monday argued that convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted several women and used his power to ensure their silence.
But the legal team of the disgraced Hollywood titan did not hold back in their own attack—insisting during their opening statements in the latest criminal trial against Weinstein that his accusers were merely “playing the damsel in distress.”
Defense attorney Mark Werksman wasted no time insisting to the jury that the women set to testify against Weinstein were liars, insisting that two of them had made up encounters and the other two had “transactional sex” with him.
Weinstein, 70, has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges against him, including rape and sexual assault, after allegedly using his power in the entertainment industry to lure and abuse five women in Los Angeles between 2004 and 2013. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 140 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Monday that former actress Jennifer Siebel Newsom was one of five Jane Does whose allegations factor into the criminal case and that she was expected to testify against Weinstein after he allegedly raped her in 2oo4 or 2005.
Werksman argued Monday that Weinstein’s relationship with Siebel Newson was consensual, before stating that if she wasn’t married to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, “she’d be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”
The brutal opening statements came hours after the formidable producer was wheeled into the Los Angeles Superior courtroom on Monday, where he thanked the court deputy who helped him to the defense table before prosecutors launched their opening statements. Weinstein, who was wearing a navy suit and glasses, occasionally looked at Gloria Allred, a lawyer representing several of his accusers, who was sitting in the gallery.
Thompson read out loud several harrowing quotes from Weinstein accusers who were set to testify against him. They described Weinstein groping, undressing, and raping them despite their pleas for him to stop. All of the women, prosecutors said, were terrified to speak out being of Weinstein’s inescapable presence in the entertainment industry.
“You’re going to hear from eight different women who were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein in Los Angeles,” Thompson said, though he did not mention Jane Doe 5 or her allegations against Weinstein, despite prosecutors including allegations from five women in the criminal case. “Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another.”
Thompson added that while all of the women told friends and family about the alleged assaults, they did not publicly accuse Weinstein of any wrongdoing until after the MeToo movement exploded in 2017. Prosecutors say that it was not until this critical period—which exposed the most powerful men in Hollywood—that the women felt comfortable exposing the man once referred to as “the king.”
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
“They feared that he could crush their careers if they reported what he had done to him,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said during opening statements on Monday morning.
Detailing each women’s accusations, prosecutors noted that Siebel Newsom, who first detailed her allegations in a 2017 HuffPost essay, believed she was meeting Weinstein in his hotel suite for a business meeting to “discuss her career.”
Prosecutors say Weinstein referred that day to “a list of A-List actresses whose careers he supposedly made, and his voice moved from pleading to aggressive and demanding” before he forced her onto the bed and forcibly raped her.
“She couldn’t get any words out because of her fear,” Thompson said about the alleged attack, adding that Weinstein told her to “relax [because] this is going to make her feel better.”
Elizabeth Fegan—who represents multiple accusers in the case, including Siebel Newsom—said in a Monday statement that “convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein and his enablers are once again resorting to their despicable, desperate, dishonest attack-the-victim playbook.”
“The defense is callously engaging in misogynistic name-calling and victim-shaming—but survivors will not be deterred—and Weinstein should be found guilty once again,” Fegan added.
Lauren Young, who testified in the New York trial that convicted Weinstein of rape and sexual assault, has also been identified as one of the Jane Does who will take the stand in the new case. She previously testified that in February 2013, when she was 23 years old, Weinstein trapped her in a Beverly Hills hotel room before he groped her and masturbated on the floor.
“I stood there in shock... and I went to the door. By that point he was already undressed and he stepped in front of me with his naked body…I felt so trapped,” Young testified in 2020, serving as a witness to a pattern of behavior in the New York case.
The three other Jane Does whose allegations are part of the trial have not yet been identified, but they include an Italian model who alleges Weinstein attacked her in a hotel room after a 2013 film festival.
The woman, identified as Jane Doe 1 on the stand, broke down on the stand as she described how Weinstein sexually assaulted her after the two briefly met at the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival. She said that night, she was shocked when Weinstein showed up in the hotel room and loudly demanded to come inside.
She alleged that Weinstein then turned aggressive, before ultimately demanding she perform oral sex on him despite her pleas to stop.
“I was panicking,” she said while fighting back tears. “He became a different person.”
As the jury left the courtroom on Monday, Jane Doe 1 held her head in her hands. She is expected to continue her testimony on Tuesday.
Another accuser, identified as Ashley M., alleges that Weinstein attacked her after a 2004 movie premier in Puerto Rico.
“Harvey Weinstein’s LA trial started today. It is much worse than what he faced in NYC. May he rot in jail til the end of his days,” actress Ellen Barkin, who has publicly accused Weinstein of verbal assault and attended his New York trial, tweeted on Monday. Barkin also notably testified against Johnny Depp in his civil defamation civil trial against Amber Heard, where both actors detailed harrowing allegations of abuse.
In addition to the five women at the crux of the charges against Weinstein, prosecutors are expected to call at least 50 witnesses to the stand. Some of them will be women who have accused Weinstein of assault but whose allegations are not a part of the criminal case. Prosecutors will call these “prior bad acts” witnesses to establish Weinstein’s pattern of predatory behavior, a tactic that has helped convict predators across the country in recent years.
The corroborating witnesses include Ambra Battilana Guiterrez, who alleges Weinstein assaulted her in 2015. Unlike the other women in the case, however, Gutierrez cooperated in an NYPD sting operation that ultimately led to Weinstein’s arrest—though no charges were ultimately filed at the time.
The jury on Monday heard the lengthy audio recording from the sting operation, in which Weinstein is heard promising to help Gutierrez’s career. Gutierrez alleges that as he was making these professional promises, he was allegedly groping her.
“Don’t embarrass me in the hotel. I’m here all the time,” Weinstein is heard in the recording. “Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
At another point in the recording, Weinstein appears to threaten her, adding: “If you don’t trust me, then we have no reason to do anything, and you will lose big opportunities.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Norwegian model Natassia Malthe is also among the corroborating witnesses set to testify that Weinstein raped her in 2008 during the British Academy of Film and Television Awards. Prosecutors said Monday that Natassia’s friend, director David Nutter, will also testify.
“I laid still and closed my eyes and just wanted it to end,” Malthe said in a 2017 press conference. “I was like a dead person.”
Weinstein’s legal team has yet to disclose who they plan to call to the stand to refute these allegations. But one of his lawyers previously told The Daily Beast, “We’re confident once the jury hears the details of these allegations, they’ll see that they didn’t happen or that they’re fabricated, or that they didn’t happen the way they say they did.”
The defense was set to begin their opening statements on Monday afternoon.
The latest trial against Weinstein in Los Angeles once seemed ceremonial, after the disgraced mogul’s conviction in New York just months before the pandemic lockdown. But the New York State Court of Appeals in August agreed to allow him to appeal his conviction—which carries a 23-year sentence—next year.
“We will definitely be watching the L.A. case closely,” Donna Rotunno, the lead attorney in Weinstein’s New York trial, told The Daily Beast on Monday.
Rotunno, a self-described feminist who has disparaged the MeToo movement, specifically highlighted the testimony expected from Young, the accuser who appeared in the New York case. Essentially, she suggested, Weinstein attorneys would be keeping tabs in hopes of identifying some kind of inconsistency.
“It could open a can of worms from an appellant standpoint,” she said.