Harvey Weinstein was once one of Hollywood’s most influential power brokers, producing a string of critically acclaimed movies that catapulted the careers of many an A-list actress. That is until more than 80 women came forward to accuse the film titan of sexual misconduct spanning three decades and using his influence to coerce them into silence.
On Monday—two years after his first accusers stepped out of the shadows—Weinstein arrived at Manhattan Supreme Court using a walker for the start of his long-awaited rape trial. The disgraced mogul faces five charges, including predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape, for allegedly performing a sex act on his former production assistant in 2006 and raping another woman in 2013.
At trial, prosecutors plan to argue that Weinstein, 67, used the power and prestige of his production empire, The Weinstein Company, to cover up his pattern of predatory behavior.
The many accusations against him—which were first exposed in a bombshell report by The New York Times in 2017—helped launch the global #MeToo movement, inspiring hundreds of women to come forward with their accounts of sexual harassment or assault at the hands of powerful men in politics, media, and the entertainment industry.
“Weinstein is a serial predator who sexually abused women for decades, taking advantage of his power and connections to systematically silence the women who could bring his crimes to light,” the Silence Breakers, a group comprised of 25 women who have reported the toppled titan’s alleged misconduct, said in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast.
The statement by the group, which includes actresses Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette, called the trial a watershed moment that will warn “predators everywhere [they] will be held accountable and that speaking up can bring about real change.”
“More than two years ago—thanks to the courage of so many women who risked everything to come forward—this ugly façade came down and he finally faced a public and professional reckoning for his actions,” the group added.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual assault—even portraying himself as a victim during a December interview with the New York Post. He faces life in prison if convicted and remains under investigation for several other allegations in Los Angeles and London.
“This is not trivial, and not as simple as ‘activists’ versus Weinstein, and the only issues that should be relevant beginning Monday are those involved with the criminal charges if due process still matters to (the media) and to the public at large,” Juda Engelmayer, a spokesman for Weinstein’s legal team, told USA Today. “Mr. Weinstein has always maintained that he has never been in a non-consensual physical relationship with anyone.”
Throughout the trial, which is expected to last six weeks, jurors will hear from six of Weinstein’s accusers—but the prosecution’s case will largely rest on the credibility of the two alleged victims who made the initial 2018 charges: Mimi Haleyi and an unnamed woman.
Jury selection is set to begin on Tuesday, when a slew of Weinstein survivors, over 150 credentialed media outlets, and curious citizens are expected to pack a Manhattan courtroom.
Prosecutors say Weinstein forcibly ripped out Haleyi’s tampon and performed oral sex on the former production assistant at his Soho home in 2006. The second woman, who has remained anonymous, was allegedly raped by the Pulp Fiction producer in a New York hotel room in 2013.
Four other women are expected to testify as corroborating accusers, including Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein raped her inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993.
While Sciorra and the three other women have accusations that fall outside the statute of limitations, their testimony is meant to bolster the prosecution’s claims that Weinstein exhibited a pattern of vile criminal behavior.
Pennsylvania prosecutors used similar legal tactics during disgraced comedian Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault trial.
“I am very proud of my clients, Mimi and Annabella, who are willing to testify under oath in this trial. They have demonstrated their courage and their commitment to justice by agreeing to testify,” Gloria Allred, who represents the two Weinstein accusers, told The Daily Beast. “I am honored to represent them in this important cause.”
“The whole world is going to watch what’s going on, it’s an important day for women,” Allred said in court on Monday.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the trial, citing the ongoing criminal process. Weinstein’s legal defense team did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Jeff Greco, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in New York and Los Angeles, told The Daily Beast that while jurors will have no trouble believing Weinstein “was a really disgusting person,” the case against him is not a slam dunk.
“I think the prosecution, for one, know this is going to be an uphill battle,” he said. “No one is going to think that Harvey Weinstein isn’t a bad guy—but being a bad guy and being a criminal are two different things.”
“I just think it is going to be difficult to maneuver from the argument that he is a really disgusting person to he forced women into acts against their will,” he added.
Some legal experts, however, believe the prosecution’s decision to have multiple cooperating witnesses speak during the trial will make the defense’s job substantially harder.
“Each woman who accuses the defendant of sexual assault increases exponentially the difficulty of defending the allegations in the indictment,” Daniel Hochheiser, a New York defense attorney, told Variety. “A good defense lawyer can challenge the credibility of one complainant, two complainants. Once you get to three, four, five, it gets to the point you need a magician instead of a lawyer.”
While rumors of misconduct by the toppled titan swirled around Hollywood for decades, his alleged behavior came to light when several women—including actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd—accused Weinstein of preying on them and other vulnerable women, offering to make their Hollywood dreams come true in exchange for sexual favors.
Eventually, dozens of members of the Hollywood elite, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, and Angelina Jolie, came forward with similar stories of being harassed or assaulted by the man who racked up over 80 Oscars during his three decades of unfettered power.
“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go,” Weinstein said in a statement at the time, adding that he was working with therapists and taking a leave of absence from his production company.
But the wave of allegations only intensified, ultimately spurring the #MeToo movement. Within days, more than 1 million people spoke on social media about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
On May 25, 2018, Weinstein turned himself into New York City police and was hit with six charges, including rape and several other counts of sexual abuse, just a few blocks from his old office in Manhattan.
Weinstein was released on $1 million bail—which was recently increased to $5 million after he allegedly tampered with his ankle monitor—and has largely remained out of the spotlight ahead of trial.
One of the charges against him was dropped in October 2018, when Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors acknowledged that the lead detective in accuser Lucia Evans’ case had failed to mention that a witness had contradicted her claims. Evans initially told The New Yorker Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him during a 2004 casting meeting at his office when she was a college student.
In a letter to the court, prosecutors revealed that one of Evans’ friends had informed them more than three months before Weinstein was indicted that Evans told her she willingly performed oral sex on the producer in exchange for the promise of an “acting job.” The lead detective in Evans’ case was later ousted over allegations of police misconduct.
In December, reports emerged that Weinstein had tentatively agreed to pay 30 of his accusers $25 million to settle a class-action lawsuit. As part of the agreement, he wouldn’t have to admit to any wrongdoing, leaving many survivors unsatisfied with the legal result.
“I don’t love it, but I don’t know how to go after him,” Katherine Kendall, 50, one of his accusers, told The New York Times in an interview. “I don’t know what I can really do.”