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Harvey Weinstein Sexual Assault Trial Begins With Opening Statements


The criminal trial of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein began today in Manhattan. Weinstein is accused of sexual crimes against two women in New York. So a warning - this conversation may not be appropriate for all listeners. NPR's Rose Friedman was in the courtroom all day. She joins us now from New York.

Hey, Rose.


CHANG: So tell us what happened in there today.

FRIEDMAN: Well, the jury was sworn in, and then we had opening statements, first from the government, which presented six stories of women who allege they were raped or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. And then we heard from Weinstein's defense team, who tried to reframe those stories, saying that they were all consensual encounters.

CHANG: OK. So how did the prosecutors outline their case?

FRIEDMAN: So Meghan Hast, who's one of the assistant district attorneys, basically previewed what we're going to hear. And the stories she told were really harrowing. Twice, she described women pinned under Weinstein as laying like, quote, "dead fish," making the point that both women stopped fighting him. The charges relate to two women - Miriam Haleyi, who says that Weinstein propositioned her repeatedly. When she says she'd thought she'd made her position clear, she accepted an invitation to his home, where he used his weight to pin her to a bed and force oral sex on her. And then on another occasion, she says he raped her again.

And then Jessica Mann, who was an aspiring actress and whose name we didn't know before today - she says she was supposed to have a breakfast meeting with Weinstein at a Doubletree Hotel in Manhattan. But she was surprised when she came downstairs to find him checking into the hotel, since he lived in New York. She says she asked him about it and that he became angry. He told her they could finish the conversation in private. And then in his hotel room, he raped her.

CHANG: OK, so crimes against two women are being prosecuted here. But you said earlier that the prosecutors are presenting the stories of six women. Who are the others? And how do their stories wrap into this?

FRIEDMAN: The prosecution hopes the other women will help establish a pattern of behavior on Weinstein's part, and they hope that that'll better convince the jury of his guilt. So take actress Annabella Sciorra - she says Weinstein raped her at her apartment in New York in 1993 or 1994. And then the other three are what's known as prior bad act witnesses. It's the same tactic we saw in the Bill Cosby trial.

CHANG: Right. And what sort of defense has Weinstein's lawyers presented so far? Or do you get a sense of what they will be presenting?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. They did a kind of retelling of the stories that the prosecution told. So one of Weinstein's lawyers, Damian Cheronis, gave the opening statement, and he tried to get at the mindset of each witness. They were mindsets, he said, that weren't of abused or hurt women but women in what he called loving and friendly relationships. He quoted from a lot of emails sent after the alleged assaults, showing women reaching out to Weinstein for his time and attention and favors and career help and friendship. One emailed to give Weinstein her new number when she'd lost her phone. Another wanted to introduce him to her mother. Another asked to spend time privately. And at one point, Cheronis turned to the jury and said, that's not how you talk to your rapist.

CHANG: So we heard opening arguments. Did any witnesses testify yet?

FRIEDMAN: Mmm hmm - someone who was on the Weinstein Company board. His name is Lance Maerov. The DA mostly used him to establish Weinstein's temperament when it came to conducting his businesses. They kept asking if Weinstein was aggressive and loud, and the defense kept jumping in to object, which is probably a preview of what's coming next.

CHANG: That is NPR's Rose Friedman.

Thank you, Rose.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rose Friedman is an Associate Editor for NPR's Arts, Books & Culture desk. She edits radio pieces on a range of subjects, including books, pop culture, fine arts, theater, obituaries and the occasional Harry Potter-check-in. She is also co-creator of NPR's annual Book Concierge and the podcast recommendation site Earbud.fm. In addition, Rose has edited commentaries for the network, as well as regular features like This Week's Must Read on All Things Considered.