Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty in a New York court Mon., Feb. 24, on two counts of felony sexual crimes. He was convicted of criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree, and was acquitted of the two more serious counts of predatory sexual assault, as well as one count of first-degree rape. Weinstein, who more than 80 women have accused of sexual assault and harassment, pleaded not guilty in the case and has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He faces a sentence of five to 25 years.
The jury determined that Weinstein forced a sexual act on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in July 2006, and raped former aspiring actress Jessica Mann at a hotel in 2013. An outpouring of allegations against the producer in 2017 sparked the spread of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. The trial served as a significant test of the country’s ability to hold powerful men accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace.
The jury of seven men and five women heard about three weeks worth of testimony in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan before beginning their deliberations. They heard from six accusers: Mann, Haleyi, Annabella Sciorra, and three others allowed as support witnesses. The prosecution brought a total of 28 witnesses, with the defense bringing seven including former friends of accusers who disputed the prosecuting testimonies.
Jury deliberations began Tuesday amid accusations that Weinstein’s attorney, Donna Rotunno, committed jury tampering by penning an op-ed in Newsweek on Sunday. After almost five days of deliberations, Judge James Burke charged the jury with deadlock on Friday for being unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the two charges of predatory sexual assault.
“But, I’m innocent,” Weinstein repeated three times to his lawyers while the jury foreman read the verdict. Justice James M. Burke thanked the jurors for their “care and concentration” before they left the courtroom. Weinstein was immediately handcuffed and removed from the room, and was later taken in an ambulance to an infirmary on Rikers Island after complaining of chest pains and showing signs of high blood pressure.
“It’s absolutely horrible for me to watch my client taken into custody,” Rotunno said. “Harvey is very strong. He took it like a man. He knows this is not over.”
In court, Rotunno argued that Weinstein’s accusers willingly had sex with him to further their careers and only years later, after others accused him of sexual harassment, recounted their encounters as nonconsensual.
While the jury acquitted Weinstein of the counts of predatory sexual assault, which would have acknowledged a pattern that included forcing sex on Sciorra in the 1990s and carry a maximum life sentence, the verdict nonetheless marks a historic end to the landmark trial that sparked the #MeToo era.
Tarana Burke, the original creator of the #MeToo movement, stated, “Harvey Weinstein operated with impunity and without remorse for decades in Hollywood. Yet, it still took years, and millions of voices raised, for one man to be held accountable by the justice system… This case reminds us that sexual violence thrives on unchecked power and privilege. The implications reverberate far beyond Hollywood and into the daily lives of all of us in the rest of the world.”
“We did a good job, and we worked as hard as we possibly could, but it’s not the outcome we were looking for,” Rotunno commented after the verdict. Weinstein’s publicist stated that his attorney is already in the process of filing an appeal.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) Union issued new guidelines in February to improve workplace safety and decrease sexual harassment within the industry. Guideline No. 1 of the union’s Code of Conduct marks the first development of SAG-AFTRA’s initiative, the Four Pillars of Change.
“We are committed to addressing the scenario that has allowed predators to exploit performers behind closed doors under the guise of a professional meeting,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said. Guidelines include calls for a ban on auditions being held in hotel rooms and residences, which are referred to as “high-risk locations.” If no reasonable alternative forum is available, the guidelines encourage union members to go only with the support of a second individual of their choosing, who “should be allowed to maintain physical access to the member at all times during the meeting (e.g., no closed doors blocking the member and Support Peer.)”
Weinstein is set to be sentenced on March 11. He also faces four felony counts of sexual assault in California, which Los Angeles County district attorney Jackie Lacey filed on Jan. 6 of this year.
(Sources: NYT, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Forbes, SAG-AFTRA)