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Harvey Weinstein's lawyers wrap up defense: 'This is not a monster'

February 14, 2020 - 6:03 am
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(NEW YORK) -- Harvey Weinstein's attorney Donna Rotunno likened prosecutors to "producers … writing the script" and creating a fictional "alternative universe" to obscure her claim that both women the film producer is charged with assaulting were engaged in consensual sexual relationships with him in a daylong closing statement by the defense Thursday.

Rotunno insisted that the two main accusers only "relabeled" consensual experiences as sexual assaults after the fall of 2017, when revelations about Weinstein broke in The New York Times and The New Yorker.

In a broadside aimed squarely at #MeToo movement skeptics, the defense attorney blamed the "re-labeling" on prosecutors.

"They've created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility," she said. "It's offensive, actually."

"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 invitations, the plane tickets they accept," Rotunno charged.

"In this universe they are not even responsible for sitting at their computers and sending emails to men across the country," she added. "The powerful man is the villain, so unattractive and large that no woman would want to sleep with him voluntarily."

Rotunno charged that prosecutors were using the accusers to put Weinstein in jail.

"I feel sorry for [the rape accuser]," Rotunno said. "[She] is a victim of the state. ... The people of the state of New York used [the rape accuser]."

Rotunno spoke for a total of nearly five hours on Thursday.

Weinstein is charged with five felony counts for allegedly raping one woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on Miriam "Mimi" Haleyi in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claims any sexual encounters were consensual.

Rotunno sought early on to limit the jurors' focus to the two complaining witnesses. She said Haleyi and the rape accuser -- whom ABC News is not naming because she has not publicly identified herself like other witnesses -- were the stars of the fictional "universe" prosecutors built around their accounts.

"You've heard from many witnesses in this case … but in the end it only comes down to those two and if you don't believe Miriam Haleyi or [the rape accuser] you don't have to evaluate anything else," Rotunno said.

She zeroed in on the fact that both of the complaining witnesses Weinstein is charged with attacking continued to contact him, usually by email, after they were victimized.

Rotunno cited dozens of emails from both women to Weinstein after the alleged assaults, many of them seeking some sort of favor from him -- whether it be professional support or advice about their own projects, movie premiere tickets or simply personal advice.

"There wasn't one email between Miriam Haleyi and Harvey Weinstein or [rape accuser] and Harvey Weinstein that in any way, shape or form that established that an assault had occurred," she said. Had there been, Rotunno insisted, "there wouldn't be a screen big enough" for prosecutors to display it on.

Then she extended the accusation to all the accusers in the case.

Ticking off the names of all six women who testified that Weinstein assaulted them, Rotunno noted that "every single one of these women reached out [afterward] and asked for things -- and he does anything he can do."

"This is not a monster," she said. "This is a guy who, any time anyone asks for help, not only does he get his assistants to help, but he says, 'What else can I do?'"

'Can you believe that?'

Rotunno underscored the rape accuser's description of the alleged March 2013 attack.

"She claims she was assaulted in a New York hotel," Rotunno claimed. "And to be fair -- even if we look at her testimony and her testimony alone, even if you believe every word she says about what happened in that hotel room, it does not rise to the level of a rape."

Quoting the rape accuser's testimony, Rotunno read aloud, "I gave up at that point and I undressed and he stood over me until I was completely naked then he told me to lie on the bed." The accuser said Weinstein went into the bathroom briefly and "then he came out naked and got on top of me. That is when he put himself inside of me."

"She does not say at this point she said 'no,'" Rotunno said. "She does not say at that point she tried to push him off her in any way."

The accuser had earlier testified that prior to the alleged attack she tried to flee the room when Weinstein got angry, but he held the door closed while -- just beneath him -- she tried in vain to pull open the door and flee.

Rotunno also cited the accuser's testimony that her "biggest fear" and "worst nightmare" after the attack was that her friends would see her coming out of a room with Weinstein and think less of her for it.

"Can you believe that?" Rotunno asked jurors.

Noting that Weinstein normally stays at higher-priced hotels than the Doubletree, Rotunno contended that he only booked a room there because he was meeting his girlfriend for a sexual tryst.

Rotunno said Weinstein booked the room "one, to make it convenient for [the rape accuser] and, two, because he was going to see the woman he was having a sexual relationship with. Does that make more sense?" she asked jurors.

Displaying one email communication after the next between the rape accuser and Weinstein, Rotunno said that of correspondence: "This man says nothing but kind things to Mimi and [the rape accuser]."

Rotunno also sought to generate suspicion of Haleyi's motives by assailing the woman's attorney, Gloria Allred, who also represents accuser Lauren Young.

The defense attorney noted that while Haleyi testified that she has not filed a civil lawsuit against Weinstein to date, she acknowledged on cross-examination that "anything's possible."

"She hires Gloria Allred, who sits here every day," Rotunno said, gesturing to Allred sitting perched in the front row.

"Allred hasn't been paid," the defense attorney noted. "She doesn't sit here for her health. She sits here because she knows there's a pot of gold at the end of this trial."

'She's a star'

Rotunno took issue with actress Annabella Sciorra's account of being raped by Weinstein sometime during the winter of 1993-94.

"Annabella says the reason I didn't tell anyone is because I didn't think it was rape," Rotunno said, adding derisively, "Yeah."

"A woman who is 33 years old from Brooklyn in the entertainment industry knows what rape is," Rotunno continued.

"That story she told you about him holding her hands above her head … and him forcing himself inside her? If that's not rape, what is?" she said.

Rotunno suggested that Sciorra fabricated the rape story to advance her career.

"She's now more relevant than she was before. … She's changed her memory and now she's raped. Once again, she's a star. She has new agents. Now she's the darling of the [#MeToo] movement," Rotunno said.

Rotunno went on to assert that accuser Lauren Young "lied" about her account of being trapped in a hotel bathroom where she said she was sexually assaulted.

The defense attorney scoffed at Dawn Dunning's account of being propositioned for a threesome in exchange for roles in three Weinstein films, saying that "if she was so upset" about Weinstein allegedly sexually assaulting her in a hotel room earlier, she never would have gone to sign the acting contracts.

At another point, she mocked accuser Tarale Wullf's memory problems.

Rotunno also suggested jurors should be suspicious of the accusers because none testified about getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases after their encounters with Weinstein.

"Not one of these women that you've heard from over the course of four weeks -- not one -- has said, 'I didn't call police. I didn't call law enforcement. I didn't call my friends, but I went and had an STD test,'" she said.

'New York City common sense'

Earlier, Rotunno urged jurors to divorce their emotions from their opinions.

"You may have had a gut feeling that you thought Harvey Weinstein might be guilty," Rotunno said. "Throw that gut feeling out the window."

"Use your New York City common sense like a beacon: Every time you feel emotion taking over, I want you to remember that common sense as you evaluate the evidence because it will lead you to right choice," she added.

She asked jurors to think about the portrait painted of Weinstein by the accusers.

"In the alternative universe that prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster: he's unattractive, he's overweight," she said. "They showed you naked photographs of him. Ask yourself why? To do nothing more than shame him. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to show those photographs -- not one. No issue of identification."

"You don't have to like Mr. Weinstein -- this is not a popularity contest," Rotunno said at another point.

"If you look at the evidence alone," she said, gesturing toward the prosecutors' table, "they lose."

Asked outside of court what he thought of Rotunno's closing, an upbeat Weinstein alluded to one of his own Oscar-winning movies, The King's Speech, with Colin Firth.

"I loved it," Weinstein said. "It was the queen's speech. It was better."

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi is expected to present the state's closing arguments on Friday. Jury deliberations are to begin on Tuesday, following a three-day holiday weekend.

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