Harvey Weinstein's lawyers fail to get new jury, mistrial in clash after opening statements

Patrick Ryan and Maria Puente, USA TODAY

NEW YORK – Opening statements in Harvey Weinstein's sex crimes trial concluded Wednesday with a blast from the defense team about the jury "poisoned" by prosecutors' descriptions of Weinstein as a "predatory monster" who posed for pictures with former President Bill Clinton.

When the seven men and five women of the jury left the courtroom for the day, Arthur Aidala, one of Weinstein's lawyers, told Judge James Burke that "the jury is tainted and we need to start again." He said Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast's opening statement, which included pictures on a courtroom screen of the ex-movie mogul on red carpets and posing with Clinton, was "completely inappropriate." 

"To show President Bill Clinton in a sex crimes case to be put up on the screen …Clinton has nothing to do with this case. It’s 100% irrelevant," Aidala said. "Nobody mentioned that former President Obama’s daughter interned for Mr. Weinstein. President Obama wasn’t brought up – it was only Mr. Clinton’s name that was brought up to influence this jury.” 

Burke denied Aidala's motion to start over with a new jury. 

Another defense attorney, Damon Cheronis, asked the judge to declare a mistrial, arguing that it was "unfair" to ask the first witness on Wednesday, former Weinstein employee Lance Maerov, to describe Weinstein's appearance and personal characteristics, including his "slovenly" dress and his heavyset frame. Under cross-examination, Maerov also acknowledged he didn't much like Weinstein.  

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi defended the questioning, saying the jury should understand that instead of the older man who uses a walker they see at the defense table, "the man these (accusers) met was a loud, imposing, large man, not the frail man you see over there.”

Burke denied the motion for a mistrial.

Weinstein, 67, is on trial on five charges, including rape and sexual assault, stemming from encounters with two accusers, one who says he raped her in 2013 and the other who says he sexually assaulted her in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty.

Earlier this month, the embattled former Hollywood producer and studio head was hit with additional sex crime charges in Los Angeles; that case is on hold until the New York case is resolved.

The lawyers' clash on Wednesday afternoon followed a day given over mostly to the opening statements. Hast went first with a scathing description of Weinstein that included labeling him a rapist. The defense team followed with Cheronis reading text messages and emails from accusers.

"During this trial, you’re going to learn that the defendant was a savvy, powerful Hollywood producer … but the evidence both from the witness stand and evidence … will show that that man was a sexual predator and a rapist," Hast said.

She said Weinstein "violently and forcibly" raped "Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra in the winter of 1993-94, sexually assaulted Miriam Haleyi in 2006 and raped a third woman in 2013.

"At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear, that the man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, but a rapist," Hast said. "(He used) his power and prestige in the entertainment industry to ensure (accusers') silence. … Although they're strangers to one another, they’ll each describe to you their shame and humiliation following their violent encounters with the defendant."

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Hast launched into graphic details of Weinstein's alleged assault of Sciorra, who will be testifying at the trial as a witness to back up the prosecution's effort to prove Weinstein is a "predator" as defined by New York law, though her allegations are too old to prosecute.

Of Haleyi, Hast said: "The 110-pound Miriam was no match for the 300-pound Weinstein. … He pushed her onto the bed, put his weight on top of her, and held her down."

Weeks later, Hast said, Haleyi "saw no way out” and "walked back to the man who violently sexually assaulted her," meeting him at a hotel where she was sexually assaulted again. 

"Even after that second encounter, she didn’t manage to complete cut Harvey Weinstein out of her life," Hast said. "… She was “feigning everything was fine” and that they had “a normal professional relationship. … She found her voice in October 2017," when media exposés were published detailing Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct dating back decades and involving more than 80 accusers. 

At times while Hast spoke, Weinstein shrugged at his legal team, shook his head or stared at the jury. 

Hast said another accuser, Jessica Mann, whom she described as a would-be actress from a dairy farm in Washington state, met Weinstein at a party. She was in New York in March 2013 when Weinstein came to her hotel room. Having already had at least one unwanted sexual encounter with Weinstein, she was “panicked,” Hast said.

“He demanded she take off her clothes in the hotel room and forcibly undressed her… Realizing the danger of resisting, Jessica relented and got undressed,” Hast said. “He came back out of bathroom, got on top of her and raped her. … Jessica just laid there.”

Afterwards, Hast said, Mann “kept a semblance of relationship with him. … She would say nice things and pretend she wanted to see him, but then would say something came up and cancel,” Hast said Weinstein “attacked her again at a later date,” and apologized. “He so manipulated this young Christian from the dairy farm,” Hast said.  Mann contemplated suicide, but is “a much smarter, braver, stronger woman” than she was in 2013.

“This is not the typical date-rape scenario,” Hast argued. “… Here the rapist was at the very pinnacle of the profession (that) his victims wanted to be in.”

She said that the psychological dynamic present in these encounters caused the victims to act in ways one might not normally expect. She said the prosecution would be bringing in a doctor to testify that many sexual assault victims continue to be in contact with their assailants after their assault.

Cheronis began his opening by rejecting Hast's characterization of Weinstein.

"This is Harvey Weinstein," Cheronis said, indicating his client. "He was called a rapist, a trickster, a manipulator by Ms. Hast. That stops now in this courtroom. What we just heard from Ms. Hast was a narrative to explain things that are inexplicable. This is the time where we get to tell you what happened."

He said Hast called Weinstein "sloppy and basically called him ugly. But you’ll see that he wasn’t this master manipulator," Cheronis said.

He told the jury that witnesses who will testify in the case will be emotional. "Be patient for cross examination because that, too, is evidence," he said. For example, he said, Mann wanted to introduce Weinstein to her mother.

"The (prosecution) just told you that Jessica wanted to break free from Harvey, but that’s not true," Cheronis said. The lawyer also delved into emails exchanged between Weinstein and some of his accusers, including Mann.

After the alleged assault on Mann in her hotel, Cheronis said, Mann told a friend she wanted to stay an extra day in New York, and the next day attended an Oscar party as Weinstein's guest.

In April, "Jessica tells Harvey, 'I appreciate all you do for me, it shows.' April 17, Jessica writes: 'It would be great to see you again and catch up.' " Cheronis said, quoting from emails. "Defense alleges that she was almost always the one to reach out to him. Aug. 16th, Jessica emails Harvey that she wants 'time privately' with him."

Cheronis also said Mann texted Weinstein on Feb. 28, 2017: “I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call. :)”

These exchanges are expected to be a major issue at the trial, with the defense arguing they show some accusers had "friendly, even loving" relationships with Weinstein after alleged assaults.

The prosecution is expected to introduce expert witnesses who will testify that this is not uncommon behavior after a sexual assault. 

Cheronis said Mann also described Weinstein as her “casual boyfriend” in a note entry on her phone. He said Mann and prosecutors “want to have it both ways. … You can’t say ‘I’m afraid of this man and trying to get away from him,’ and then turn around and ask him to spend time with you."

Cheronis also challenged Sciorra's story, starting with the six-month window of time she says it happened, in the winter of 1993-94, which makes it difficult for the defense to pin down where Weinstein might have been on any of those days. 

"Annabella told a good friend that she did a 'crazy thing,' says she had sex with Harvey but did not describe it as rape," Cheronis said. Some of her other statements also have changed, he said. "At one point, she said 'I didn’t report it because I didn’t think it was rape' "

Cheronis asked the jury to ignore the court of public opinion about Weinstein. 

"What we’re asking you to do during the course of this trial is to disabuse yourself from what you’ve heard about Harvey Weinstein. …There is another side to the story," Cheronis said. "You don’t call Harvey Weinstein a predator in 2020 when you want to introduce him to your mother in 2015. We’re here to get to the bottom of something that has been believed (about Weinstein) when it shouldn’t have been."

Earlier, Weinstein arrived outside the Manhattan courthouse without the walker he's been using since the trial opened on Jan. 6, due, he said, to pain from a car accident and back surgery. He was flanked by his attorneys and an assistant who held his arm. 

The proceedings are expected to last through mid-March, with potential A-listers being brought up in court including Charlize Theron, Rosie Perez and Salma Hayek. 

Harvey Weinstein jury selected: 7 men, 5 women; judge shuts down defense's argument

On Friday, the court rounded out the trial's 12-person jury, which is composed of seven men and five women. The professionally and racially diverse panel was selected over the course of a week and a half from an uncharacteristically large pool of 2,000 prospective jurors. 

Harvey Weinstein's lawyer, judge clash: Charlize Theron named as potential witness

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Weinstein trial: No new jury, mistrial after opening statements