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As Harvey Weinstein’s defense wrapped up its case Thursday, lead attorney Donna Rotunno stuck to the story her team has been trying to tell since Day One of the trial: that the disgraced Hollywood producer’s relationships with the women accusing him of sexual assault were transactional, but ultimately consensual.
“In the alternative universe that prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” Rotunno told the jury of seven men and five women, according to the Associated Press. “In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make to further their own careers, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they accept, the jobs they ask for help to obtain.”
“In this script, the powerful man is the villain, and he is so unattractive and large that no woman would want to sleep with him,” Rotunno added, Variety reported.
Dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, but Weinstein is facing five sex crime charges stemming from alleged encounters with just two: Miriam Haley, who says Weinstein forced oral sex on her in 2006, and Jessica Mann, who says Weinstein raped her in 2013. A total of six women testified against Weinstein during the trial, partially in an effort by prosecutors to detail Weinstein’s alleged pattern of abuse.
Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Throughout the trial, Weinstein’s lawyers sought to portray his accusers as failing to distance themselves from him — something that all real assault victims do, the defense intimated. (A forensic psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution explained that it’s common for victims to continue to talk to their abusers, particularly if the two already know each other.)
In her remarks Thursday, Rotunno tried to hammer Haley and Mann for continuing to communicate with Weinstein even after the alleged assaults. She read out emails that Mann sent to Weinstein; after reading one where Mann asked if Weinstein would be in Los Angeles around her birthday, Rotunno called the message “another thing you don’t send your rapist,” according to BuzzFeed News. (Women who were sexually abused may try to avoid dealing with the abuse, the psychiatrist said, in an attempt to curtail its devastation. They may believe the abuser’s good qualities outweigh the bad.)
Rotunno also tried to cast doubt on Mann’s behavior during the alleged rape. Mann has said that Weinstein physically blocked her from leaving the hotel room, then commanded her to undress. She felt like she had to follow his orders.
“What does she do?” Rotunno said, according to Variety. “She gets naked, and she lays on the bed. This is not a rape. This is someone who agrees to do what has been discussed.”
The major witnesses
Two of the biggest moments for the defense came on Monday, when social media influencer Claudia Salinas and actress Talita Maia gave testimony that seemed to contradict two Weinstein’s accusers’ stories.
Lauren Young said that she was locked in a hotel bathroom with a masturbating Weinstein. Salinas, according to Young, was the one who closed her in the bathroom.
But when Salinas took the stand, she said that “never happened.”
"If I had done that, I would have remembered,” Salinas testified. “I have never closed the door behind anybody, ever."
When Salinas was shown photos of the hotel suite where the assault allegedly happened, Salinas said she’d never been there.
When a prosecutor cross-examined Salinas, the prosecutor said Salinas had told investigators she didn’t recall exactly what happened, the New York Times reported. “It could have happened, but it doesn’t mean I was there,” Salinas added.
Maia, on the other hand, had previously been friends with Mann. Maia had allegedly been in the other room of a hotel suite when Weinstein allegedly forced oral sex on Mann; when the pair emerged from the other room, Maia said Mann did not seem upset.
Maia and Mann also had breakfast with Weinstein after Weinstein allegedly raped Mann. “Did she seem like herself to you?” Rotunno asked Maia, who has since fallen out with Mann.
“Yes,” Maia replied.
Another witness, former Hollywood agent Paul Feldsher, was called in an apparent effort to cast doubt on actress Annabella Sciorra, who testified that Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s. While Sciorra’s allegation was deemed too old to be tried separately, prosecutors hope that it could help convince jurors to convict Weinstein of “predatory sexual assault” — meaning, essentially, that he committed serious sexual assaults against at least two people.
A conviction on that charge could land Weinstein behind bars for life.
Feldsher testified that he was a close friend of Sciorra during the time of the alleged rape. At the time, he’d understood that Sciorra had “fooled around” with Weinstein but nothing suggested the encounter was nonconsensual, NPR reported.
"I remember Annabella saying to me that she [had] done this crazy thing with Harvey," Feldsher said.
"There were no components about what she was saying [that] I found shocking or alarming," he went on. "I don't recall it being stressful."
Though Weinstein briefly huddled with his lawyers on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of getting on the stand himself, the fallen producer ultimately decided against it.
Cover image: Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in his rape trial, in New York, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)