Harvey Weinstein was once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Over 40 years in the industry, he launched the careers of Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, making one Oscar-winning film after another.
But on Monday, Weinstein was driven from a cell to a courtroom on the ninth floor of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to face a second trial on charges that he was a sexual predator who exercised his power to target aspiring serial rape talent in Hollywood. The prosecution told the jury of eight accusers who will testify about violent encounters with the former movie mogul from 1991 to 2013.
“Each of these women came forward independently, and none of them knew each other,” District Attorney Paul Thompson said, pointing to a presentation with photos of the women, in his opening statement.
Thompson gave graphic details about multiple attacks. In one, he said Weinstein stormed into his accuser’s hotel room, dragged the actress into the bathroom, pushed her over the sink, and raped her while “trying to show him pictures of her kids.” In another attack, Weinstein cornered his masseuse, reached into her shirt to feel her breasts and masturbated on the floor, the prosecutor said. Weinstein told her it was “perfectly normal” and that “he’d done it with so many people,” Thompson said.
In a meeting with prosecutor Jennifer Siebel Newsom — wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom, who revealed herself as one of four Jane Doe accusers in a statement through her attorney — Thompson said Weinstein raped her after referring to a “list from A- List actresses whose careers he supposedly made’ while ‘his voice changed from pleading to aggressive and demanding’.
Attorney Mark Werskman said in his opening statement that Weinstein’s accusers are lying. Two of the attacks were completely fabricated, he claimed, while the others were “transactional sex.” He said Siebel Newsom would be “just another bimbo to sleep with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood” if she wasn’t married to the governor.
A jury of nine men and three women will consider the charges in a trial expected to last until the end of November. They will examine the credibility of nine accusers, five of whom will discuss uncharged sexual assaults to show that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of sexual predation, and communication between them and Weinstein that may seem friendly. Weinstein is charged with 11 charges of sex crimes, including rape, in connection with the assault of five women from 2004 to 2013, carrying cumulative sentences of up to 140 years. He is serving a 23-year sentence after being convicted in New York.
The prosecution guided the jury through Weinstein’s method of assaulting women. Thompson said Weinstein met Siebel Newsom at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival when she was a “impotent actor trying to find her way around Hollywood.” After the event, Weinstein invited her to “discuss her career” at a hotel.
Siebel Newsom was caught off guard when Weinstein’s assistants left the suite where they were holding the meeting, Thompson told the jury. He said Weinstein then made an advance, but Siebel Newsom declined. Then he pushed her onto the bed, Thompson said.
“She couldn’t get words out because of her anxiety,” said Thompson, who claimed Weinstein consistently isolated women in bathrooms during his attacks.
Like Weinstein’s other accusers, Thompson said Siebel Newsom was forced to maintain contact with Weinstein for the sake of her career. This was the case of Jane Doe No. 3, an aspiring screenwriter and massage therapist who often worked with celebrities and athletes. After giving Weinstein a massage, Thompson claimed that Weinstein propped her up in a corner in the bathroom, fondled her breasts and masturbated. She agreed to continue meeting Weinstein after the attack, Thompson said, because he offered her a book deal. Later she asked him to meet her boss, who wanted an introduction.
“It’s going to cost you,” Weinstein replied, demanding she see him masturbate, Thompson said.
Mel Gibson, to whom the prosecution disclosed the attack, is expected to testify for the prosecution later in the trial.
Judge Lisa Lench ended the first day of testimony early Monday after Jane Doe No. 1 burst into tears and stopped responding to questions from Thompson about her meeting with Weinstein. At the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival in 2013, the model and actress testified that Weinstein raped her in her hotel bathroom.
She is expected to resume testimony on Tuesday.