Prosecutors in Los Angeles have rested their case in the trial of Harvey Weinstein, who they allege raped two women and sexually assaulted two others.
After nearly four weeks of testimony from 44 witnesses, members of the jury will now receive time off for Thanksgiving - before they return for testimony by defence witnesses on 28 November. Before the jurors were able to leave however, they were issued a warning by the Superior Court Judge.
Lisa Lench warned jury members not to consume any trial-related media, specifying “any movie trailers that may be related to this case or movies that may be related to this case – well, not related to this case, but related to this issue”.
She did not mention the name of the film, but it doesn’t take a detective to figure out that she was referring to the upcoming release of She Said. The plot centres around the true story of how New York Times (NYT) journalists Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor published a report exposing sexual abuse allegations against the Hollywood movie producer.
The NYT investigation is credited by many with providing a launching pad for the start of #MeToo, which is a social movement which encourages victims of sexual assault and abuse to speak up about their experience.
The film based on the story, starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, is being released just in time for the jury’s holiday recess - hitting US cinemas on 18 November and UK ones on 25 November.
Jurors are not supposed to consume any entertainment or media which may influence their opinion on the defendant, as they are supposed to make decisions about innocence or guilt based on the evidence presented in the trial. This is why Judge Lench will have alluded to the film, She Said.
Why is Harvey Weinstein on trial?
Weinstein is charged with crimes against four people - a model, an actor and model, a documentary filmmaker and a massage therapist. The charges range from 2004 until 2013, and include allegations of sexual assault and rape.
The former producer has said that the encounters described in the charges were all consensual. His lawyer has argued that the allegations cannot be corroborated by “credible sources’’ and added that there was a lack of evidence to prove that the encounters were not consensual.
During the trial so far, prosecutors have spoken to the witnesses who Weinstein is charged with assaulting, as well as four other women who are not involved with the charges, but who were brought in with the intention of demonstrating Weinstein had a propensity for such acts.
The first witness brought to the stand, named as Jane Doe 1, told the jury of how she was forced to perform oral sex on Weinstein in a hotel room in 2013. The woman, who was also shielded from being identified in court, said: “I was crying, choking.” According to US publication Deadline, she covered her mouth as she recounted the encounter.
What happened when the jury was excused?
Once the jury was excused, Weinstein’s lawyer entered a new ‘not guilty’ plea for him to an amended indictment that drops four of the 11 previous counts against him. The move became necessary when prosecutors said earlier this week that the accuser known in court as Jane Doe 5 would not be appearing to testify and that the counts would no longer be pursued.
Juda Engelmayer, a spokesperson for Weinstein, said in response to the dropped charges that “this witness could have felt uneasy about being scrutinised knowing the truth of the matter”.
Weinstein’s legal team also moved to have all counts against him dismissed, arguing that the prosecutors had failed to prove them. This was denied by Judge Lench.
One of the lawyers, Alan Jackson, said the allegations that in 2013 Weinstein raped and sexually assaulted a model known at the trial as Jane Doe 1 were especially unfounded, arguing that there is no convincing evidence that “the interlude occurred at all”.
He also said there was no evidence that there was “any restraint whatsoever”, as required for a count of sexual battery, in the part of the case involving model Lauren Young, who is the only accuser to testify at both of Weinstein’s trials - in New York and Los Angeles.
She said she was paralysed by fear when Weinstein blocked her from leaving the bathroom, masturbated in front of her and groped her breasts in a hotel in 2013.
Mr Jackson said there was ample evidence, including emails the two exchanged in the ensuing years, that witness Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Weinstein had a consensual sexual encounter that she later reframed as rape. Judge Lench responded: “I think there is enough evidence to send all these counts to the jury, and I will do so.”
Weinstein is two years into a 23-year sentence for his conviction in New York, and has been held in a Los Angeles jail throughout the trial.