By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape in a New York court on Monday and taken off to jail in handcuffs, a victory for the #MeToo movement that inspired women to publicly accuse powerful men of misconduct.
Once one of Hollywood’s most influential producers, Weinstein, 67, was found guilty of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013.
Officers helped Weinstein unsteadily to his feet before leading him away. His lawyer said Weinstein, who has used a walker throughout the trial, was expected to be taken to a medical facility at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex.
A spokesman for Weinstein said later that the onetime movie mogul was diverted instead to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, which has a unit that provides medical care for jail inmates.
The spokesman, Juda Engelmayer, told Reuters he did not know why Weinstein went to Bellevue or how long he would be there. But a number of news outlets, including Variety, reported that he had complained of chest pains.
Either destination would be a sharp contrast to the posh Four Seasons hotel where the producer of such acclaimed films as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love” started his day.
After the verdict Arthur Aidala, Weinstein’s lawyer, quoted his client as saying, “I’m innocent. I’m innocent. How can this happen in America?”
His sentencing hearing was set for March 11. The attorney vowed to appeal.
Weinstein never testified in his defense. He told reporters during the trial that he had wanted to speak but his lawyers said it was unnecessary because the case against him was weak.
Actress Rose McGowan, who had accused Weinstein of rape, wrote on Twitter: “Today is a powerful day & a huge step forward in our collective healing.”
A statement for the #MeToo movement said: “The jury worked with an incredibly narrow and unjust set of laws governing sexual assault, and though he was not convicted on all counts, Harvey Weinstein will have to answer for his crimes.”
Weinstein faces up to 25 years in prison on the sexual assault conviction. He was also convicted of third degree rape – sexual intercourse without consent – which carries a prison sentence of up to four years.
The jury of seven men and five women acquitted Weinstein on the most serious charges, which carried a potential life sentence.
Asked by reporters outside court how the jury service experience was for him personally, jury foreman Bernard Cody said, “Devastating,” but declined to elaborate.
A long legal battle in the appeals courts is likely to ensue. At the start of the trial, defense lawyers accused the judge of bias, the prosecutors of withholding evidence, and the media of turning the trial into a circus.
Weinstein still faces sexual assault charges in California, which were announced just hours after his New York trial began on Jan. 6. Dozens of women have also filed civil lawsuits against him.
More than 80 women, including famous actresses, accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct stretching back decades. He denied the accusations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at a news conference: “It’s a new day because Weinstein has finally been held accountable.” He praised the jurors. “Your verdict turned a page in our criminal justice system.
“To the survivors: I owe and we owe an immense debt of courage to you,” Vance said.
The jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault and first degree rape – forcible sexual intercourse – of Mann.
A conviction on predatory sexual assault would have required the jury to find Weinstein committed an alleged assault against actress Annabella Sciorra and at least one of the alleged crimes against Haleyi or Mann.
Sciorra, best known from the television show “The Sopranos,” testified Weinstein forced his way into her home one night, raped her and forced oral sex on her. The accusation, from the early 1990s, was too old to be charged as a separate crime.
“In speaking truth to power we pave the way for a more just culture, free of the scourge of violence against women,” Sciorra said in a statement.
Prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who had manipulated women with promises to open doors in Hollywood, coaxing them to hotel rooms or private apartments and then overpowering and violently attacking them.
During the trial, the prosecution methodically elicited graphic testimony from several accusers, including Haleyi, who said Weinstein invited her to his SoHo home after she had worked on one of his television productions.
After she arrived, Weinstein backed her into a bedroom, held her down on the bed and forced himself on her orally, yanking out her tampon, Haleyi told jurors.
Mann said that soon after meeting Weinstein she entered into an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she alleged, he raped her in 2013.
She described Weinstein as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character: He was charming in public but often showed terrifying anger when they were alone, Mann said.
Legal experts said three additional women, who testified for the prosecution, provided powerful evidence that was difficult for the defense to overcome.
The three – actress Lauren Young, model Tarale Wulff and costume designer Dawn Dunning – described for the jury what prosecutors characterized as Weinstein’s signature pattern of behavior: luring women to hotel rooms or his apartment to discuss film roles, then attacking them.
Under the law, such “prior bad act” witnesses are allowed in sex crime cases to show a pattern of conduct and to counter a defendant who says the encounters were consensual, said Lisa Linsky, a former sex crimes prosecutor.
Young, one of two women at the heart of the California case, told the jury that the film producer trapped her in a hotel bathroom in 2013, groped her breasts, and told her: “This is what all the actresses do to make it.”
Throughout the case, the defense said regret drove the accusers to take consensual incidents and reframe them as crimes. Weinstein’s lawyers zeroed in on friendly messages and ongoing contact between the women and Weinstein.
During cross-examination, for example, the defense showed Haleyi a message she sent Weinstein signed “lots of love” after her attack. Defense lawyers repeatedly suggested that Mann willingly had sex with Weinstein to advance her career.
Prosecutors pushed back against defense assertions that his accusers were not credible and the notion that they were responsible for the alleged attacks.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Tom Hals, Jonathan Allen and Angela Moore; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Grant McCool, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall)