NEW YORK — The Harvey Weinstein sex crimes trial continued Friday with a crucial witness – a woman whose rape accusation is a central part of the charges against him.
Former actress Jessica Mann, 34, took the stand in a Manhattan courthouse to testify against the fallen movie mogul, who she says raped her in a New York hotel room in 2013.
In opening statements prosecutors said Weinstein assaulted Mann multiple times in 2013, including in Los Angeles, but he is charged in connection with one encounter at a hotel in New York.
Mann began her testimony by describing encounters she says she had with Weinstein in Los Angeles County. Mann spoke softly, seemed to be shaking with nerves at times, and sometimes paused before answering questions. She said she grew up devoutly religious in a small, rural town in Wisconsin and moved to Los Angeles when she was 25.
“I would say I grew up in a cult…very extremely Pentecostal,” she said.
She said she initially had a hard time breaking into the entertainment business and at one point she was living in her car before she acquired an agent. She met the then-powerful producer Weinstein at an industry party in late 2012 or 2013 in Los Angeles.
“When I met Harvey, I had given up a lot to be in Hollywood,” she said. “With my religious background, I thought God was blessing me by meeting him.”
At a dinner with him at a hotel in Beverly Hills, they were interrupted by people coming up to the table to greet him. He told the waiter they would take their food upstairs to his room, she said.
“I didn’t want to go up there, but I thought I was helping him by getting away from all this attention. I didn’t have a sense that anything bad was coming, but it was odd,” she said.
Once there, he ignored the food, got partially undressed and demanded a massage, which she reluctantly agreed to. After 10 minutes, she left.
“He was not direct with me about what he wanted, he was making implications,” she said. “He was manipulative. I was saying I was uncomfortable and he was making me feel stupid, like I was making a big deal over nothing.”
Later, she and a friend met him at another Beverly Hills hotel for drinks, where he said they would be suitable for parts in a movie he was producing. When the bar closed, he suggesting going upstairs to his suite for the scripts.
“I didn’t think with my friend there it’d be anything bad,” Mann testified. But once there she said, Weinstein called her into the bedroom, told her friend they’d just be a minute and closed the door. She described tussling with him as he became angrier.
“The more I fought, the angrier he got. And then his anger scared me and I tried to calm down, and tried to joke,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to let you leave until I do something for you.’ He started manipulating me, like, ‘you accepted these invitations to my parties,’ stuff like that.”
She began crying as she described how he forced oral sex on her after pulling down her underwear. “I kind of locked up and got really quiet,” she said. She pretended she liked it, she said, then ran out of the room, grabbed her friend and left the suite.
She told her friend what happened but the friend had encouraged her to accept Weinstein’s invitations to parties and events. “She was always very adamant about this being the right thing,” she said.
“He was preying on the naive and inexperienced,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told jurors last week during opening statements. “Here, the rapist was at the very pinnacle of the profession his victims wanted to be in. It was profoundly psychological.”
Harvey Weinstein trial:Ex-boyfriend says accuser was ‘shocked, upset’ after meeting with mogul
Mann said she maintained a sexual relationship with Weinstein for years after the alleged attack, with multiple emails and text messages from Mann to Weinstein suggesting a friendly, even loving relationship.
Weinstein’s defense team says that in more than 400 messages between the two, she never accused Weinstein of raping her or harming her. The prosecution is expected to argue that Mann feared for her career, as well as herself, if she said anything.
Questions about why accusers maintain contact with their alleged assailants have been a key issue in the trial. Prosecutors called an expert witness to testify that this is “normal” behavior by victims and it’s a “rape myth” to suggest it isn’t.
The defense argues that such behavior at least raises reasonable doubt about criminal allegations.
This week, two other accusers, Dawn Dunning and Tarale Wulff, were called to testify; they have accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting them in the mid-2000s, although neither can press charges due to the statute of limitations. They are being offered as “prior bad acts” witnesses aimed at helping prosecutors prove Weinstein had an alleged pattern as a serial predator.
Multiple secondary witnesses were called Thursday to testify on various aspects of earlier witnesses testimony in an effort to corroborate their stories.
Prior to Mann taking the stand Friday, defense lawyers argued a motion to strike Wulff’s testimony, saying they had only now learned of a possible new witness who could clarify or change Wulff’s testimony, including whether or not she had more than two encounters with Weinstein.
Defense attorney Damon Cheronis accused prosecutors of withholding information about this witness. Judge James Burke denied the motion.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with five sex crimes, including rape and assault, stemming from encounters with Mann and another accuser, Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi, who tearfully testified in court Monday. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.