NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer told jurors Thursday that prosecutors in the rape case against him were acting like moviemakers, creating a world where “women are not responsible” for how they interact with men.
Weinstein is innocent, attorney Donna Rotunno said, appealing to jurors to ignore “outside forces” and use their “New York City common sense” in weighing a case seen as a watershed for the #MeToo movement. It was fueled by the downfall of Weinstein, who was once one of Hollywood’s most influential figures.
Rotunno, who has taken heat from #MeToo supporters for her advocacy for the disgraced movie producer, argued that prosecutors had to come up with a “sinister tale” about him because they don’t have the evidence to prove the charges.
“The irony is that they are the producers and they are writing the script,” Rotunno said. “In their universe, women are not responsible” for their behavior when they engage with men, she added.
Rotunno faces a tricky task: convincing the jury of seven men and five women that there are too many inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimony of Weinstein’s accusers, without breaking her earlier promise that jurors wouldn’t hear any “victim shaming.”
“You don’t have to like Mr. Weinstein,” she told jurors. “This is not a popularity contest.”
Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a different woman, Mimi Haleyi, in 2006. Other accusers testified as part of a prosecution effort to show he used the same tactics to victimize many women over the years.
Weinstein, who did not testify, has maintained any sexual encounters were consensual.
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent. It is withholding name of the rape accuser because it isn’t clear if she wishes to be identified publicly.
The jury is scheduled to hear the prosecution closings Friday before getting instructions on the law from Judge James Burke next week and starting deliberations.
In often emotional testimony, Weinstein’s accusers said he lured them to hotels in New York and Los Angeles on the pretense of promoting their acting careers and then sexually assaulted them. The defense countered by confronting some accusers with warm emails and other communications with Weinstein that continued for months or even years after the alleged attacks.
In her closing argument Thursday, Rotunno said the emails offered “real-time evidence” of what happened between Weinstein and the women.
She pointed to a 2007 message from Haleyi asking how Weinstein was doing and signing off with “lots of love” — the year after he allegedly sexually assaulted Haleyi, whom he had gotten a job on the Weinstein-produced TV show “Project Runway.”
“Not an email you send to your sexual assaulter, even in the world they want to create,” Rotunno told jurors. “This is where you need to say, ‘Wait a minute — do I have doubt about the story she’s telling?’ How could you not?”
Witnesses testified about wanting a professional relationship with Weinstein, Rotunno said, “because if they label it what it was, we wouldn’t be here.”
During the trial, the jury also heard about emails in which the victim of the alleged rape wrote to Weinstein afterward to accept party invitations from him, give him new phone numbers and even express gratitude. One message read: “I feel so fabulous and beautiful, thank you for everything.”
Rotunno delivered her closing argument less than a week after she came under fire on social media for telling The New York Times’ podcast “The Daily” she’d never been attacked “because I would never put myself in that position.”
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon rebuked Rotunno for calling the prosecution’s witnesses “liars” in the interview.