Weinstein’s lawyer asks New York jurors to reject ‘overzealous prosecution’ at rape trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Harvey Weinstein told a New York jury on Thursday that they were the “last line of defense” against an “overzealous prosecution,” as Weinstein’s weeks-long rape trial comes to a close.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Criminal Court during his ongoing sexual assault trial in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The prosecution “wove a sinister tale of a man who searched out his victims by putting them through a series of tests,” but that story was not supported by evidence, Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, told a Manhattan jury during closing arguments.

She stressed that Weinstein was presumed innocent, and urged jurors to put aside emotion and use their “common sense” when considering the evidence.

“Historically you are the last line of defense in this country from the overzealous media, from the overzealous prosecution,” Rotunno said.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013 and to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006.

Rotunno began her closing argument by thanking the jurors for their time and attention during the trial that began on Jan. 6.

“Harvey thanks you,” she said. “After all, his fight now lies in your hands.”

The jury is expected to hear the prosecution’s closing argument on Friday.

Weinstein faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault, the most serious charge against him.

The trial is a milestone for the #MeToo movement in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.

Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

The former producer, who was behind films including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied any nonconsensual sex.

Mann testified that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room early in what she called an “extremely degrading” relationship with him. It continued for years and included consensual sex, Mann said.

Rotunno presented her with numerous affectionate emails she sent the producer after the alleged rape, including one in which she wrote, “I love you, always do.”

Haleyi testified that Weinstein forced oral sex on her in his home in 2006. Some time later, she said, she went to see him in a hotel in an effort to “regain some sort of power.” Weinstein pulled her onto a bed and had sex with her, Haleyi testified.

Haleyi said she “went numb” during the encounter and did not want to have sex with Weinstein. Under cross-examination, she said she had not been forced. She acknowledged sending several friendly emails to Weinstein in the following years.

On Thursday, Rotunno said the emails Haleyi sent Weinstein after he allegedly assaulted her showed there had been no assault.

“The government will tell you emails don’t matter,” Rotunno said. “In what other circumstance would real time evidence not matter?”

Rotunno said the “real time communication” between Haleyi and Weinstein would lead “any reasonable person” to conclude they have a good relationship.

She said prosecutors were trying to take a consensual sexual encounter and “spin it into something else,” thereby “stripping women of any ability to make their own decisions.”

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Weinstein’s lawyers have argued that the two women’s interactions with Weinstein after the alleged attacks show that their encounters were consensual.

To bolster the prosecution case, four additional women were called by prosecutors, including actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool