NEW YORK – Harvey Weinstein’s defense team began its closing arguments Thursday, summing up the sex-crimes case against the former movie mogul as unproven and urging jurors to “use your New York common sense” to find him not guilty.
Defense attorney Donna Rotunno delivered Weinstein’s closing statement of the case, telling jurors that Weinstein’s “fate now lies in your hands.” She said Manhattan prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proving Weinstein committed five sex crimes.
“The district attorneys have failed to make their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and on behalf of Mr. Weinstein, we are imploring you to tell them that by (ruling) not guilty,” Rotunno said.
She reminded jurors that they promised when they were selected to make the “right” decision even if it isn’t the most popular, alluding to the public demonstrations and statements issued by accusers and activists against Weinstein outside the courthouse before and during the trial.
“You need to show that here in New York City, in the United States of America, we don’t cave to pressure,” Rotunno said. “The time to do the right thing is right now.”
She asked them to let common sense guide them during deliberations. “I’m going to ask that you use your New York City common sense,” she said. “Every time you feel emotion taking over, let common sense guide you.
She said juries are “the last line of defense” from “overzealous” media and authorities. “This is not a popularity contest. … in this country, it’s the unpopular people that need juries most,” she said.
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She said prosecutors created an “alternative universe” in which Weinstein was depicted as an overweight “monster.” At one point, pictures of Weinstein naked were shown to the jury, but not the press and public.
“Ask yourself why?,” Rotunno said. “Only to shame him.”
She challenged the stories told on the stand by six accusers, saying prosecutors’s assertions suggested adult women lack common sense, autonomy and responsibility “for what parties they attend, the hotel rooms they go to, the airplane tickets they accept.”
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi is scheduled to deliver the prosecution’s closing on Friday.
Before the jury entered, Judge James Burke asked Weinstein if he was sticking to his decision not to take the stand to testify. “Yes,” Weinstein responded.
Closing summations in the closely watched case – the first and so far only case put before a criminal jury in the #MeToo era – came after about three days of testimony by witnesses called by Weinstein’s defense, and about 11 days of testimony by witnesses called by prosecutors.
Rotunno, a Chicago-based defense attorney, was the most public of Weinstein’s lawyers before and during the trial, describing herself in media interviews as a “skeptic” of the MeToo movement. She pushed back against activists’ criticism of her for even representing Weinstein and for pressing his accusers on what the defense considered holes in their accounts of what they say Weinstein did to them.
As expected, Rotunno tried to raise doubts by pointing out what she considers conflicts and contradictions in the accusers’ accounts compared to email exchanges and other documents. Aspiring actress Mann’s account of the dates when she says Weinstein raped or assaulted her was unclear, Rotunno said, reflecting her years-long consensual sexual relationship with Weinstein before and after the alleged 2013 rape in a New York hotel room.
Mann’s account of an earlier assault in a Los Angeles hotel room, for instance, was contradicted by a witness, Brazilian actress Talita Maia, who was in the next room and said Mann did not exhibit any distress at the time.
“Ask yourself in real time if that was something forced upon (Mann) or something she engaged in with someone she was happily in a relationship with?” Rotunno said. “Whether she thought he was fat or gross or smells or all those other things she told you, she made a choice to see him, because of the life and all the things he could provide for her” as a powerful producer.
In one email to Weinstein, Mann thanked him for “your unfailing support and kindness.”
“Again, not words you say to your rapist,” Rotunno said. “How do you reconcile this behavior? Because you can’t. … not the spin that’s been placed on it, not the ‘I didn’t have a choice.’… Women have choices.”
Rotunno suggested former production assistant Haleyi wasn’t entirely frank, for instance, about why she went to Weinstein’s downtown apartment in the summer of 2006 following multiple professional and personal interactions with him in the two years prior to that.
“When asked why she agreed to go to the apartment alone, her response (was) she had no reason not to…She did want to be alone with Mr. Weinstein and doesn’t want to admit it,” Rotunno said. “She and Mr. Weinstein were having a relationship…They have to label it a professional relationship, because if they labeled it what it was, we wouldn’t be here.”
Rotunno argued that looking at paper documents and emails, “any reasonable person” would believe Haleyi and Weinstein had a “good relationship.” She pointed to an email in which Haleyi reminisces with Weinstein and signed off with “lots of love, Miriam.”
“It’s not something you do with someone who you say sexually assaulted you,” Rotunno said. “Every time, Miriam reaches out to Harvey…she talks lovingly, with lots of exclamation points, and nothing but fondness.”
Similarly, Rotunno said Mann’s own writing shows she “reframed meeting Harvey Weinstein, reframed how she knew him, reframed the content of her emails,” Rotunno said. “That’s all she knows how to do. (In speaking with a psychic and a life coach), at any point did she talk about how Harvey treated her? (She said) only positive, wonderful things.”
Reading from Mann’s testimony about her account of the alleged rape, Rotunno said that even if the jury believes everything that she said happened in the hotel room, “it does not rise to the level of a rape.”
“She doesn’t say that she tried to push him off her in any way. She gets naked and lies on the bed. This is not a rape, this is not a sexual assault,” Rotunno said.
The defense rested Tuesday after calling three main witnesses to attempt to raise doubt about the testimony of Weinstein’s accusers. The prosecution rested on Feb. 6.
Weinstein opted, as is his right, not to testify, although one of his lawyers, Arthur Aidala, told reporters outside the courthouse later that Weinstein wanted to take the stand to “clear his name.”
During a lengthy break behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, Weinstein’s defense team told him he didn’t need to testify because the evidence presented by the prosecution was “anemic at best,” Aidala said.
Haleyi, 42, says Weinstein forced oral sex on her at his downtown apartment in 2006. Mann, 34, says he raped her in a midtown hotel room in 2013.
Four others – “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, 59, Dawn Dunning, 40, Tarale Wulff, 43, and Lauren Young, 30 – also testified as accusers but Weinstein is not charged with their allegations because they’re either too old to prosecute or occurred outside New York.
Instead, the other four accusers are intended to bolster the prosecution’s case that the 67-year-old former Hollywood producer/power broker engaged in an alleged pattern of criminal sexual misconduct over years.
Weinstein pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
The trial will not be in session Monday for a holiday. Judge James Burke expects to spend an hour Tuesday 2/18 giving the seven men and five women of the jury its instructions, after which the jury will get the case.
Whether for conviction or acquittal, a verdict must be unanimous. If the jury cannot agree on a verdict, the judge will likely declare a mistrial.