A key accuser in the New York City rape trial of Harvey Weinstein broke down in tears on the witness stand on Monday during an exhaustive cross-examination over the nature of her relationship with the once-powerful movie mogul.
The drama, which prompted the judge to send the jury home about an hour earlier than usual, came after the defence sought to paint the 34-year-old woman as an opportunistic manipulator who took advantage of Weinstein while pursuing an acting career, even after he allegedly raped her. The woman said she “tried to make him my pseudo father” after a rough upbringing.
“I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat,” the woman testified. She added, “I was afraid of his unpredictable anger.”
Defence lawyer Donna Rotunno sought to shoot down those explanations by zeroing in on the accuser’s admission that she also had non-coerced sexual encounters with Weinstein that she said only happened after “a long negotiation.” Even then, “I wasn’t happy to do it,” the woman said.
“You manipulated Mr. Weinstein every single time, isn’t that correct?” Rotunno asked.
“I felt there was an aspect to the way I felt I needed to protect myself that had an element of manipulation,” the woman responded.
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of alleged sexual assault victims without their consent, unless they go public. It is withholding the name of the woman because it isn’t clear if she wishes to be identified publicly.
Accuser to return to court Tuesday
At one point, Rotunno shot back: “You made a choice to have sexual encounters with Harvey Weinstein when you weren’t sexually attracted to him … you liked the parties, and you liked the power.”
The witness, who is to return to the stand on Tuesday, had told the jury last week on direct examination that Weinstein trapped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013, and angrily ordered her to undress as he loomed over her, and then raped her.
The second attack came eight months later at a Beverly Hills hotel, where she worked as a hairdresser, after she told Weinstein that she was dating an actor, she said.
“You owe me one more time!” she said he screamed at her.
She said she begged him not to take off her clothes, but he ripped off her pants before pushing her legs apart and raping her.
The witness was grilled on Monday about emails that continued after those alleged attacks.
From the emails, it appeared the witness was still cutting Weinstein’s hair in early 2014. In one January 2014 email, he wrote her: “That’s the best hair cut and trim I’ve gotten. I’ve gotten a million compliments. Thank you.”
She wrote back: “Your the one who makes it look good with your smile and beautiful eyes!! But thank you that makes me so happy to hear :)”
Rotunno asked the witness whether she was trying to make Weinstein “believe that you cared about him.”
“I did want him to think that I was naive and safe and not a threat,” she responded.
“But you’re not naive, are you?”
“I’m observant but I’m not that smart,” she replied.
Weinstein appeared to fall asleep during testimony
Sirens blared outside the courthouse as the witness later read from a lengthy confessional email she sent to her then-boyfriend in May 2014 about her relationship with Weinstein.
“Harvey was my father’s age and he gave me all the validation I needed at that time,” she said as she choked up, adding, “I tried to make him a pseudo father.”
She began weeping uncontrollably after reading a passage attempting to explain that she had submitted to Weinstein’s sexual advances because she had been sexually assaulted when she was younger. She was still crying after an eight-minute break when the judge cut the day short.
Weinstein appeared to be sleeping at times during the emotional testimony, closing his eyes and drooping his head in his chair at the defence table. A juror also dozed off for a spell, prompting a scolding from judge.
Asked why he was sleeping as he left the courtroom, Weinstein scowled at a reporter: “Oh please.”
Potential life sentence
The testimony comes at a pivotal moment in the trial of Weinstein, whose downfall energized the #MeToo movement. He is charged in New York with the 2013 rape and also sexually assaulting Mimi Haleyi, a former Project Runway production assistant, in 2006.
A conviction could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Weinstein, 67, has insisted that any sexual encounters were consensual. His lawyers aim to raise doubts about the rape accuser’s credibility by seizing on her complicated history with the former film producer.
The woman who was being cross-examined Monday caused a stir Friday when, asked by a prosecutor to describe Weinstein’s body, she said that when she first saw him naked, she noticed “extreme scarring” and thought he had characteristics of both male and female genitalia.
“When I first saw him, I was filled with compassion, absolute compassion,” she said, adding, “It seemed his anger came from a place of pain.”