NEW YORK — Jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial started deliberating on Tuesday, weighing charges in the landmark #MeToo case that could put the once-powerful Hollywood mogul behind bars for the rest of his life.
The panel of seven men and five women heard instructions in the law from the judge before going behind closed doors to consider charges that Weinstein raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman, TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.
Jurors will also be examining actress Annabella Sciorra’s account of a mid-1990s rape in considering charges alleging Weinstein is a sexual predator, even though the allegation is too old to be charged on its own due to the statute of limitations in effect at the time.
About 40 minutes into deliberations, the jury sent a note asking for the legal definition of terms like consent and forcible compulsion, and sought clarity on why Weinstein wasn’t charged with other crimes stemming from Sciorra’s allegation.
Prosecutors built their case around graphic, often-harrowing testimony from those women, along with three other accusers who were not part of the criminal case but were allowed to take the witness stand because they say Weinstein used them same tactics on them.
Weinstein’s lawyers contend the acts were consensual. They focused on friendly, flirtatious emails some of the women sent to Weinstein and further meetings some of them had with him after the alleged assaults.
A torrent of allegations against Weinstein in October 2017 spawned the #MeToo movement. His trial is seen as a watershed moment for the cause, but Judge James Burke has cautioned jurors that it is “not a referendum on the #MeToo movement.”
Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno sent a similar message in a Newsweek essay over the weekend, drawing complaints from a prosecutor who said she appeared to be trying to influence the jury.
Rotunno wrote that Weinstein’s jurors “have an obligation to themselves and their country, to base their verdict solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom,” not critical news stories, unflattering courtroom sketches or other outside influences.
Confronted about the essay in court Tuesday, Rotunno said she was writing “about the jury system as a whole” and was not speaking to the jury in Weinstein’s case.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said Rotunno’s essay was “100% inappropriate.” She asked Burke to instruct the jury to ignore the piece and revoke Weinstein’s bail and send him to jail because, she argued, it couldn’t have been done without his permission.
Burke denied the prosecution’s request, but told Weinstein: “I would caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.”
Two weeks ago, Rotunno was criticized in court and on social media for an interview she gave to The New York Times podcast The Daily in which she blamed victims for getting sexual assaulted.
“That was taped a long time ago,” Rotunno explained after Illuzzi questioned the timing of the interview, which aired Feb. 7.
The Times said later that the interview was recorded on Jan. 28 — five days after opening statements and the start of testimony.
In her closing argument Friday, Illuzzi said that Weinstein treated the women who accused him like “complete disposables” and made them feel ashamed even though he was the one who was at fault.
“What he wants to do is he wants to get them in a situation where they feel stupid. If you feel stupid and belittled, belittled, stupid people do not complain,” the prosecutor told jurors.
But Rotunno said in her closing argument last week that the prosecutors had “created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility.”
Rotunno suggested that, according to prosecutors, Weinstein’s accusers “are not even responsible for sitting at their computers sending emails to someone across the country.”
Haleyi, a former “Project Runway” production assistant, testified that Weinstein pushed her onto a bed and sexually assaulted her, undeterred by her kicks and pleas of, “No, please don’t do this, I don’t want it.”
The woman who says Weinstein raped her in 2013 sobbed in court as she described how she sent Weinstein flattering emails and kept seeing him after the alleged rape because “I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat.”
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent. It is withholding the name of the rape accuser because it isn’t clear whether she wishes to be identified publicly.