Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein jailed for 23 years

Thomas URBAIN
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Harvey Weinstein, seen here arriving at Manhattan criminal court in a wheelchair February 24, has been transferred to a prison north of New York City

Harvey Weinstein, seen here arriving at Manhattan criminal court in a wheelchair February 24, has been transferred to a prison north of New York City (AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE)

New York (AFP) - Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault Wednesday, capping a sensational downfall for the once-powerful producer in a landmark case for the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein, who turns 68 next week, faces spending the rest of his life behind bars after New York Justice James Burke rebuffed his pleas for the minimum five-year sentence.

The judge, issuing a heavy term close to the maximum 29 years allowed, was unmoved by a rambling statement Weinstein made to the court in which he failed to express any remorse for his actions or apologize to victims.

"I'm totally confused," Weinstein said, before blaming the #MeToo global reckoning against men abusing positions of power for his predicament.

"I was the first example and now there are thousands of men being accused. I'm worried about this country," he added.

The sentencing completed a dramatic fall from grace for the titan-turned-pariah, who lost much of his $150 million fortune fighting allegations that surfaced in October 2017.

Nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, have come forward alleging 40 years of vile predatory behavior by the Oscar-winning producer of "Shakespeare in Love" and numerous other critical and box office hits.

The Silence Breakers -- a group of 24 Weinstein accusers that includes Ashley Judd, Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan -- said Weinstein's legacy would always be his rape conviction.

"He is going to jail -- but no amount of jail time will repair the lives he ruined, the careers he destroyed, or the damage he has caused," they said in a statement.

Weinstein was taken away from the Manhattan criminal court in a wheelchair as the six accusers who testified at his trial, including actress Annabella Sciorra of "The Sopranos," hugged in the front row.

Members of the public clapped as the accusers and prosecutors walked out of the courtroom.

- 'No longer hiding' -

Weinstein was found guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree on February 24. His lawyers have appealed.

Seven men and five women convicted him of raping ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013 and of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006.

Mann, 34, and Haleyi, 42, delivered powerful victim impact statements Wednesday.

Haleyi said being attacked by Weinstein had "diminished my confidence and faith in people."

Mann said his conviction had given her the strength to rebuild her life.

"My monsters are no longer hiding in my closet," she told the court.

The producer -- famous for his hard-nosed approach to work and Oscars campaigns -- was cleared of the most serious charges of predatory sexual assault, as well as rape in the first degree.

But prosecutors called on Burke to issue a lengthy jail term, saying Weinstein engaged in a "lifetime of abuse" and had shown "a total lack of remorse" for his actions.

In a pre-sentencing letter, the prosecution asked the judge to consider 36 other sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Weinstein dating back to the 1970s that were not part of the trial.

"He held all cards and played them at his will," lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said in court.

Weinstein's team suggested Burke should take into account the achievements of a man whose films received more than 300 Oscar nominations and 81 statuettes.

"His life story, his accomplishments, and struggles are simply remarkable and should not be disregarded in total because of the jury's verdict," the lawyers wrote in a pre-sentencing memo.

Weinstein also pleaded with Burke that he may never see his five children again, the youngest two of whom are under ten years old.

Weinstein's counsel regularly clashed with Burke during the trial, even claiming at one point that he was biased against their client.

- 'On notice' -

Afterwards, lead attorney Donna Rotunno suggested the intense media coverage of the trial had meant the judge "probably felt a type of pressure" to send a message.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr thanked the court for putting "sexual predators on notice" and praised his accusers "indescribable courage" throughout the case.

"Their words took down a predator and put him behind bars, and gave hope to survivors of sexual violence all across the world," he said in a statement.

Outside court, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents Sciorra and Haleyi, gleefully held up a sign that read "20 + 3 years," the sentences Weinstein received for each count.

Tarale Wulff, who testified that Weinstein raped her when she was a cocktail waitress, expressed joy that the sentence was more than she expected.

"For the first time I can say I feel a sense of happiness," Wulff told reporters.

Weinstein is expected to be incarcerated outside New York City.

Shortly after his sentencing, prosecutors in Los Angeles said they had "begun the process of extraditing" Weinstein to the Californian city where he faces further sex crimes charges.