Harvey Weinstein’s lead defense attorney told jurors during closing arguments at his sexual assault trial Thursday that they were the “last line of defense” against “overzealous” prosecutors, insisting the district attorney’s office had acted like filmmakers to create a fictional portrait of the disgraced executive.
The attorney, Donna Rotunno, told the court that prosecutors in the high-profile New York case had played the role of movie producers, writing a “script” intended to “trick” jurors into finding Weinstein guilty. She called on the jurors to employ their “New York City common sense” when deciding the case.
Weinstein, 67, who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual misconduct going back decades, is charged with raping a former aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a former production assistant in his apartment in 2006.
He has pleaded not guilty in the case and denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.
“In their universe,” Rotunno said, referring to prosecutors, “women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with. In this script, the powerful man is the villain, and he’s so powerful and large that no woman would want to sleep with him.”
“In the alternative universe that the prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” Rotunno later added.
Weinstein’s defense attorneys have repeatedly attempted to raise doubts about accusers’ testimony, suggesting that their sexual encounters with the Oscar-winning producer were either consensual or transactional attempts to advance their careers.
In her closing arguments, Rotunno did not attempt to portray Weinstein as morally upright, focusing instead on what she characterized as contradictions and inconsistencies in the accounts of his accusers.
“You don’t have to like Mr. Weinstein,” Rotunno said. “This is not a popularity contest.”
The prosecution, for its part, attempted to portray Weinstein as a serial sexual predator who used his industry clout to lure women before forcing himself on them, sometimes violently. The two primary accusers in the case, Jessica Mann and Mimi Haley, both testified that he overpowered them as they tried to fend him off.
The trial featured testimony from four other accusers whose accusations were not the basis for the criminal charges but, for prosecutors, showed that the producer behind “The King’s Speech” used similar tactics to victimize many women over decades.
In the course of an exhaustive summation Thursday, Rotunno sought to undermine Mann and Haley’s accounts point-by-point. At one point, at least two jurors were seen sleeping. Rotunno also attempted to convince jurors that prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to prove their case.
“You don’t have any eyewitnesses,” Rotunno said. “You don’t have any DNA or photos of injuries. There is no forensic evidence whatsoever.”
The trial is widely considered a landmark in the era of #MeToo, the global reckoning with sexual misconduct that was partly fueled by the wave of allegations against Weinstein. The initial allegations were first reported by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times and Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker.
Rotunno delivered her closing arguments less than a week after she drew fierce criticism for saying on The New York Times’ podcast “The Daily” that she had never been sexually attacked “because I would never put myself in that position.”
The jury — seven men, five women — is expected to hear the prosecution’s closing arguments Friday.
When asked by reporters on Thursday afternoon how he felt about Rotunno’s closing argument, Weinstein said: “I made ‘The King’s Speech.’ It was a queen’s speech.”