Opening statements begin in Harvey Weinstein sexual assault trial


Opening statements in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial began on Monday.

A prosecutor told jurors Monday that the stories of the women who will testify that Weinstein sexually assaulted them tell very similar stories of themselves as young, aspiring women who were cornered in hotel rooms by a man who at the time was the definition of Hollywood power.

“Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson said during his opening statement at Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial.

Thompson argues that Weinstein used his power over these women by mentioning female A-list stars whose careers advanced after being involved with him.

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Thompson played a video presentation that showed composite photos of the four women, with quotes from prior testimonials displayed. Most were aspiring actors.

One was an aspiring screenwriter who thought she was going to pitch a script to “the most powerful man in Hollywood” at the time, Thompson said, referring to Weinstein. 

Another was a masseuse with a famous clientele of actors and athletes, who Weinstein suggested might write a book for his company’s publishing arm before later cornering her in the bathroom.

These women will testify that Weinstein ignored clear signs they were not interested in a sexual relationship, the prosecutor said, with “their shaking bodies, their crying, their backing away from him, their saying ‘no.’”

The prosecutor shared that one woman even showed Weinstein images of her child to try to get him to stop.

Weinstein attorney Mark Werksman told jurors that what Weinstein did with the women was considered acceptable, “transactional” behavior in Hollywood, where young women were seeking roles and other advantages by having sex with the powerful movie magnate.

“You’ll learn that in Hollywood, sex was a commodity,” Werksman said.

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Weinstein has denied any non-consensual sex and has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of rape and sexual assault. 

Weinstein’s lawyers opening statement is expected to be followed by testimony from an Italian model and actor who says Weinstein raped her at her Los Angeles hotel in 2013.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is also among Weinstein’s accusers. 

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Siebel Newsom was one of the accusers Thompson described in his opening, saying that though she appears to be in a powerful place now, at the time of her assault she was just like the other women Weinstein targeted.

“Seventeen years ago, when she met the defendant in 2005, she was a powerless actor trying to make her way in Hollywood,” Thompson said.

Without using her name, both sides said she would testify. Werksman called her a “very prominent citizen of California.”

“She’s made herself a prominent victim in the #MeToo movement,” he added, “otherwise she’d be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”

In addition to the four women mentioned, four other women will testify at trial that Weinstein sexually assaulted them, though their accusations did not lead to criminal charges. In his opening presentation and a possible hint to his trial strategy, Thompson paired each of them to one of the other four accusers based on the similarity of their stories.

Meanwhile, Werksman said Siebel Newsom and many other women in the case had contact, and even initiated dealings, with Weinstein in the years after the encounters, often referring to him affectionately.

Werksman said that Weinstein’s consensual acts were transformed in October 2017 with “the asteroid called the #MeToo movement.”

“He became the smoldering, radioactive center of it,” Werksman said. “He is Hollywood’s Chernobyl.”

He said that there was suddenly “a new word” for the women, “victim.”

Weinstein, 70, is serving a 23-year prison sentence following a conviction in New York. Weinstein was granted permission to take his appeal of his 2020 sex crime conviction to the New York State Court of Appeals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Opening statements in Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles sex assault trial began on Monday. Jennifer Siebel Newsom is among accusers set to testify.

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