The second trial of Harvey Weinstein will get underway this week in a Los Angeles courtroom, in a case that figures to be more sprawling and complex than his first trial in New York.
The trial is expected to last up to two months, as Weinstein faces testimony from nine sexual assault accusers — up from six in New York. Jury selection begins on Monday and is expected to take at least two weeks, as both sides seek to screen out jurors who may be prejudiced by ubiquitous pre-trial publicity.
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Weinstein, 70, is already serving a 23-year sentence after being convicted of rape and sexual assault two years ago. The New York Court of Appeals has agreed to hear his case, but a conviction in Los Angeles — where he faces up to 140 years behind bars — could effectively guarantee that he never goes free.
The Los Angeles trial will resemble the first trial in many ways. One of the Los Angeles victims, Jane Doe #2, even testified as a supporting witness in New York. The prosecution is expected to argue that Weinstein used his power and the promise of career advancement to lure women to hotel rooms, where he sexually assaulted them. The defense is expected to argue that the women are lying and that some of them carried on consensual relationships with Weinstein afterwards.
Weinstein is facing 11 charges relating to five women, which span from 2004 to 2013. The women will be referred to as Jane Does 1 through 5 in court, though their identities may become clear once the trial is underway.
Jane Doe 1 is an Italian model who alleges that Weinstein raped her at her hotel during the L.A.-Italia film festival in February 2013. Prosecutors have already begun taking testimony from two witnesses related to her allegations. A limo driver, Alfred Baroth, testified in February that he brought Weinstein from the airport in Van Nuys to the festival, and later took him to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. The woman alleges that Weinstein showed up late that night at the Mr C. hotel, which is adjacent to Beverly Hills, and forced his way into her room.
Prosecutors also took testimony last week from Pascal Vicedomini, the producer of the festival. Vicedomini appeared via Zoom, and spoke through an Italian interpreter. The questioning extended for several hours, and was videotaped with the idea of potentially playing it for the jury.
Vicedomini was said to have introduced Jane Doe 1 and Weinstein, though he appeared not to remember much of the encounter. He was also asked if Jane Doe 1 had asked him to help return Weinstein’s jacket, which he had supposedly left in her hotel room after the alleged attack. Vicedomini had no memory of that either.
“I don’t know what jacket you’re talking about,” he said.
Judge Lisa B. Lench allowed four additional women to testify as so-called “prior bad acts” witnesses. Such testimony was used in Weinstein’s first trial and in the trials of Bill Cosby. The prosecution wanted to call 15 women to testify, though the judge excluded 10 of those witnesses, including Daryl Hannah and Rose McGowan. An additional witness — known in court only as Miss I. — changed her mind and decided not to testify, leaving the prosecution with only four.
The jury is also expected to hear from friends and confidants of the accusers, with whom they would have shared their allegations contemporaneously.
Complicating matters for the defense, Universal will release “She Said” — a feature film about the two New York Times reporters who broke the Weinstein scandal five years ago — in the middle of the trial. The film, produced by Brad Pitt and starring Zoe Kazan and Carrie Mulligan, will debut on Thursday at the New York Film Festival, and will be released in theaters on Nov. 18.
“This is guaranteed to be a big deal in the public consciousness,” argued Mark Werksman, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, in seeking a delay in the case in August.
Lench denied the request, saying she would instruct the jurors not to watch the film.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a time when there isn’t media coverage with regard to this case,” she said.
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