Weinstein trial: Key players in case that could jail movie mogul

The trial that could see disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein jailed for life is beginning in earnest in New York.

The former film producer, 67, who was behind such hits as Shakespeare In Love and Pulp Fiction, has pleaded not guilty to five charges including rape and sexual assault.

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since 2017, but this trial centres on two alleged victims over encounters they say happened in 2006 and 2013.

From Weinstein himself to the lawyers tasked with defending him, here are the key players lining up for a trial that could put the former king of Hollywood behind bars.

Weinstein on walking frame for start of rape trial

The defendant: Harvey Weinstein

Far removed from the red carpets of Tinseltown, Weinstein has looked frail during each of his arrivals at New York’s supreme court during the early weeks of his trial.

The Oscar winner stands charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another woman in 2006.

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He has pleaded not guilty and has insisted any sexual activity was consensual, just as he has denied all other allegations against him that have not led to charges or a trial.

If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Harvey Weinstein arrived in court on a zimmer frame on Tuesday
Image: Weinstein denies all charges against him

The accuser: Mimi Haleyi

Weinstein’s former production assistant alleges that he sexually assaulted her at his home in Soho, Manhattan, in 2006.

She came forward with her personal lawyer Gloria Allred at a press conference in 2017.

Ms Allred is a well known women’s rights attorney who has represented other alleged victims of Weinstein and those of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The other woman whose claims form part of the trial has not been identified.

Mimi Haleyi (left) spoke at a news conference with lawyer Gloria Allred
Image: Mimi Haleyi (left) spoke at a news conference with lawyer Gloria Allred

Another alleged victim: Annabella Sciorra

In addition to the two women whose claims led to the trial, three others are expected to testify about “prior bad acts” committed by Weinstein.

Two of them are unnamed, but the other is the US actress Annabella Sciorra, who has publicly accused Weinstein of attacking her at her home in Manhattan in the 1990s.

Weinstein is not being charged for their accounts, but their testimonies could strengthen the case against him.

Sopranos star Sciorra told The New Yorker in 2017 how Weinstein had “shoved me onto the bed” and “attempted to perform oral sex on me”.

Annabella Sciorra
Image: Annabella Sciorra says she was attacked by Weinstein in the 90s

The judge: James Burke

The judge presiding over this trial has already become an unpopular figure among Weinstein’s defence team.

Upon catching him using his phone during jury selection, James Burke asked the defendant: “Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?”

He did not follow through with his threat to jail Weinstein, but his anger was obvious.

Weinstein’s team was also not happy with Mr Burke’s decision to allow Ms Allred to remain in court for the trial, and were frustrated in their bid to have the whole process moved to avoid a “media and entertainment circus”.

Rose McGowan delivered an open message to Harvey Weinstein outside court
Rose McGowan’s message to Weinstein

The lead defence lawyer: Donna Rotunno

Former Chicago prosecutor Donna Rotunno is heading up Weinstein’s legal team and has told reporters she is convinced that her client is not a rapist.

She told Vanity Fair while some women might have regretted having sex with Weinstein, “regret sex is not rape”.

And she told The Wall Street Journal last year that she was no fan of the #MeToo movement, saying: “I’m not a woman who has ever subscribed to it. I believe women are responsible for the choices they make.”

Ms Rotunno has become specialised in representing accused men in criminal sex cases and will have her frequent collaborator Damon Cheronis alongside her in court, plus a handful of other attorneys hired by Weinstein.

Donna Rotunno is heading up Weinstein's defence team
Image: Donna Rotunno is heading up Weinstein’s defence team

The lead prosecutor: Joan Illuzzi-Orbon

The lead prosecutor for Weinstein’s trial is Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who has a formidable record in court.

One of her most high-profile convictions was that of Pedro Hernandez for the kidnap and murder of Etan Patz.

Etan was six-years-old when he went missing in May 1979 and Hernandez was finally convicted and handed a jail sentence of at least 25 years back in 2017.

Ms Illuzzi-Orbon has had an almost completely uninterrupted stint as the Manhattan assistant district attorney since earning her law degree in 1988.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon will be aiming to secure a conviction
Image: Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon will be aiming to secure a conviction

Key prosecution witness: Barbara Ziv

Prosecutors are calling Dr Barbara Ziv as a witness after she provided key evidence at the 2018 retrial of Bill Cosby, which returned a guilty verdict that saw the former comedian end up in prison.

She served to dispel assumptions about how rape and sexual assault victims behave after an attack, telling the court how victims frequently avoid or delay reporting assaults to police, often keep in contact with the perpetrator, remember more details over time and differ in their emotional responses.

The Cosby trial included evidence that he had remained in contact with some of his victims and there will be similar evidence in the Weinstein trial, with one of his accusers having sent him warm emails after the alleged assault.

One note sent in the months afterwards said “miss you big guy” and another one read: “There is no one else I would enjoy catching up with that understands me quite like you.”

Weinstein’s lawyer: ‘We believe he will be exonerated’

And what about the jury?

Those who will ultimately decide Weinstein’s fate are those on the jury.

There are eight men and seven women across the 12 jurors and three alternates that have been seated, ensuring a gender balance despite complaints by prosecutors that the defence was trying to keep young women off the panel.

Ms Illuzzi-Orbon said they were “systematically eliminating a class of people from this jury”, but the defence said they were concerned about jurors who were too young to understand how men and women interacted in the 90s.

Weinstein lawyer Arthur Aidala said: “That was a different time in New York and on planet Earth.”

One woman who didn’t make the cut was supermodel Gigi Hadid, who had said she would keep an “open mind” despite admitting she had previously met actress and potential witness Salma Hayek.

Source : Sky News