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Harvey Weinstein

Prosecutor Calls Weinstein a Predator as Rape Trial Opens

The disgraced film mogul's trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said

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What to Know

  • Opening statements are expected Wednesday in the Manhattan rape and sex assault trial against Harvey Weinstein
  • Weinstein’s lead lawyer, former Chicago prosecutor Donna Rotunno,  said that while some women may regret having sex with him, "regret sex is not rape"
  • The disgraced movie mogul faces up to life in prison if convicted

Harvey Weinstein faced a jury Wednesday in a landmark moment for the # MeToo movement, with prosecutors painting him in graphic detail as a sexual predator who used his movie-magnate stature to abuse women.

"He was not just a titan in Hollywood. He was a rapist," prosecutor Meghan Hast told the jury of seven men and five women at the start of the former film executive's rape trial, adding that he once screamed at a victim that she "owed" him sex, used injections to induce an erection before an assault and pushed his way into the apartment of another woman and attacked her.

"It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable," Hast said.

Weinstein's lawyers started delivering their opening statement later in the day.

Defense attorney Damon Cheronis called the opening statement by prosecutors a mirage and says it is not evidence. Cheronis says the relationships Weinstein had were consensual and they will show friendly-sounding emails the accusers continued to send Weinstein long after the alleged assaults.

"This guy is accused of being a rapist and predator. What we just heard was a narrative. What you heard is not true," Cheronis said, adding: "He is not a predator, quite the contrary. You need to look at evidence and know what is real."

Weinstein, 67, told reporters he felt "very confident" about the case as he left court: "I got great lawyers."

While he entered the courthouse without the walker he has been using lately because of back problems, he was leaning on it again as he left.

The opening of the trial more than two years after a barrage of allegations against Weinstein gave rise to #MeToo was seen by activists as a milestone in the global reckoning over sexual misconduct by powerful men.

Weinstein's defense, though, has portrayed the trial as a time to confront what they see as a climate of accusation run amok. His lawyer Donna Rotunno warned in a Newsweek op-ed last month: "Long before you stand before a judge, the claims of a few can upend your life and destroy your reputation."

The disgraced movie mogul's attorneys said the judge in the case should recuse himself after the magistrate admonished Weinstein for using his cell phone in the court room the day before. NBC New York’s Adam Kuperstein reports.

Guided by aides and lawyers, he wasn't using the walker he has leaned on lately after a summer car crash and subsequent back surgery. He said he was feeling better.

The once-powerful and feared executive who brought to the screen such Oscar-winning movies as "Pulp Fiction," "The King's Speech," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Chicago"

and hobnobbed with the elite in Hollywood and beyond, a point prosecutors made by showing jurors a photo of Weinstein with former President Bill Clinton. A prosecutor also told the judge that Weinstein had taken calls from Clinton while Weinstein was with one of his accusers.

Weinstein's lawyers later cited the photo in asking for a mistrial, saying the image was irrelevant and accusing prosecutors of improperly trying to influence the jury. Judge James Burke denied the request.

Though dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexually harassing or assaulting them over the years, the New York charges are limited to two allegations: that Weinstein raped a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman in his apartment in 2006.

The rape accuser found a needle in the hotel room bathroom after the alleged assault and realized Weinstein had injected himself to get an erection, Hast said.

Another time, after the woman told him she had a new boyfriend, Weinstein dragged her into a bedroom, "all the while screaming at her that he owed her one more time," Hast said. "He ripped her jeans off so forcefully that it left scratch marks."

The prosecutor said Weinstein later told the woman, "I just want to apologize for what happened earlier. I just find you so attractive, I couldn't resist you."

In addition to the two women he is charged with attacking, prosecutors plan to call to the stand four other accusers — including actress Annabella Sciorra — in a bid to show a pattern of predatory behavior by Weinstein.

When he got the women alone, he would undress and force himself on them, Hast said in her opening statement.

"They will each describe their fear, their shame and their humiliation - the struggle each went through to push their trauma down and show a brave face to the world," she said.

Hast detailed allegations that Weinstein sexually assaulted Sciorra around 1993 after giving the "Sopranos" actress a ride home to her Manhattan apartment and pushing his way inside.

"She told him to get out. She told him no. But Harvey Weinstein was undeterred," Hast said.

Weinstein's lawyers plan to go on the offensive, pointing to "dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails to Mr. Weinstein" they say show he and some of his accusers were in consenting relationships.

Cheronis has said some of the women "bragged about being in a sexual relationship" with the film producer, and said the rape accuser sent Weinstein a request that year asking for "time privately" with him, along with another message letting him know, "I got a new number. I just wanted you to have it. Always good to hear your voice."

Cherinos said: "These aren't our words. They're hers. It is not a relationship based on fear. You are going to see that."

Harvey Weinstein has been hit with new charges of sex crimes in California, the same day he appeared in court in New York City. Jonathan Dienst and Chris Glorioso report.

Later Wednesday, testimony got underway with prosecutors calling to the stand former Weinstein Co. board member Lance Maerov, who described the ex-producer as "an extremely influential, powerful person" who could be charming in public and aggressive in private.

"I would say his public personality was diametrically opposed to who he was in private," Maerov said. The movie company went bankrupt after Weinstein's fall.

Prosecutors are seeking to counter any impression that continued contact could undermine the women's allegations. Weinstein's accuser in the 2006 allegation stayed in touch with him, "trying to normalize the situation," Hast said Wednesday. "As for Harvey Weinstein, he knew he had successfully silenced her."

Weinstein's trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said. Judging from the arduous two weeks of jury selection, it could be a hotbed of protests and intense media coverage.

In a failed last-minute push to get the trial moved, Weinstein's lawyers said a mob's chants of "The rapist is you!" at street level could be heard in the courtroom, 15 floors above.

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Jennifer Peltz in New York and Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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