Weinstein charged with sex crimes in LA on eve of NY trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles prosecutors charged Harvey Weinstein on Monday with sexually assaulting two women on successive nights during Oscars week in 2013, bringing the new case against the disgraced Hollywood mogul on the eve of jury selection for his New York trial.
The case, brought by a task force set up by the Los Angeles County district attorney to handle sex-crime allegations against major entertainment figures, now puts Weinstein in deep legal peril on both coasts, where he built his career as the one of the most powerful - and feared - figures in show business before a barrage of allegations from more than 75 women led to his downfall and ignited the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein, 67, was charged with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb. 18, 2013, after pushing his way inside her room, then sexually assaulting a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night. He could get up to 28 years in prison on charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery.
"We see you, we hear you and we believe you”’ District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in announcing the charges, addressing herself to the movie producer's accusers.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said the charges open the "next chapter" for a man “who has gotten away with too much for too long,” while Beverly Hills Chief Sandra Spagnoli called the cases “horrendous crimes perpetrated by a sexual predator.”
Lawyers for Weinstein had no immediate response to the new charges, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in the New York case, in which Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing a sex act on another woman, Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.
He has said any sexual activity was consensual. If convicted of the most serious charges against him in New York, two counts of predatory sexual assault, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
The charges announced Monday on the West Coast took more than two years to file because the women were reluctant to provide all the information necessary, according to Lacey.
The task force is still investigating sex-crime allegations against Weinstein from three women, the district attorney said. Prosecutors declined to bring charges involving three other women because their cases were beyond the statute of limitations.
Weinstein is expected to appear in court in California after his trial in New York is finished, Lacey said. She said prosecutors will recommend $5 million bail.
Lacey, along with the two police chiefs, urged other victims to come forward. "We need the voices of all victims to help us remove sexual predators from our community and protect others from these violent crimes," she said.
The district attorney said the timing of the Los Angeles charges was unrelated to the New York trial. She said the filing and the announcement came on the first business day in which all the necessary people could be gathered.
Neither woman has stepped forward publicly. But one of them is expected to testify in the New York case as part of an effort by prosecutors to portray Weinstein as a sexual predator with a distinct pattern of conduct.
Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Haleyi as well as actress Annabella Sciorra, who is scheduled to testify against Weinstein in New York, welcomed the new charges.
“"The walls of justice are closing in on Harvey Weinstein. He is now being prosecuted both in New York and Los Angeles," Allred said in a statement, adding: “Women are no longer willing to suffer in silence and are willing to testify under oath in a court of law.”
The alleged attacks in Los Angeles County came days before the Hollywood studio boss was photographed on the Oscars red carpet with his fashion designer wife, Georgina Chapman, who was pregnant at the time.
At the 2013 Academy Awards, Weinstein had several major contenders, including “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Django Unchained” and “The Master.” His movies took home an armful of Oscars, including Jennifer Lawrence’s first Academy Award and trophies for director Quentin Tarantino and actor Christoph Waltz.
In a joke that would later turn ominous, when that year’s nominees were announced, emcee Seth MacFarlane said after reading the actresses nominated for best supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
Earlier in the day Monday, Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him converged at a New York City courthouse for final preparations for his trial.
Weinstein’s attorneys suggested they knew the additional charges might be coming, asking the judge to sequester the potential jurors because of that possibility. The judge denied the request.
“There is a potential L.A. situation going on,” his lawyer, Donna Rotunno, told reporters after the hearing.
Weinstein entered the courthouse using a walker following recent back surgery. When asked outside how his back felt, he responded with a thin smile and a so-so gesture with his hand. “Not so good,” he said. “Better.”
Inside, his lawyers and prosecutors spent the morning sparring about procedural matters, including how to keep publicity surrounding the trial from influencing the jury's thinking. In a brief hearing, Judge James Burke declined to impose a gag order preventing Weinstein's attorneys from speaking to the media.
Across the street, actresses and other women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein branded him a villain undeserving of anyone's pity.
“He looked cowardly. He wouldn’t look at us. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who said Weinstein once sexually harassed her in his underwear during a job interview. “This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome.”
Weinstein's lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, said she was hopeful a fair jury could be found that wouldn't pre-judge the case. “In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty,” she said outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors wanted jurors to hear from some of the many women who have come forward publicly to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault. The first allegations were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017. Prosecutors got permission from the court to try to buttress their case with four other witnesses: Sciorra and three other accusers who haven't been named.
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