National News

Weinstein Pleads Not Guilty to Sexual Assault Charges

Posted June 5, 2018 9:29 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2018 9:37 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein returned to court in Manhattan on Tuesday to plead not guilty to sexual assault charges lodged against him in an indictment last week.

Weinstein, unshaven and in a black suit, limped slightly as he came into State Supreme Court in Manhattan at 10 a.m. The court clerk asked him how he pleaded to first-degree criminal sexual act and other charges and he answered “not guilty” in a gravel baritone.

It was Weinstein’s first court appearance since his May 25 arrest on charges that he sexually assaulted two women in New York.

Last week, a grand jury indicted Weinstein, 66, on the same charges — one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape and one count of first-degree criminal sexual act.

Weinstein’s not-guilty plea had been expected. He has steadfastly denied he forced any of the dozens of women who have accused him of sexual misconduct to have sex with him. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said two sexual encounters described in the indictment handed up last week were consensual.

“However reprehensible the crime of rape is, it is equally reprehensive to falsely accuse someone of rape,” Brafman said in court. “Mr. Weinstein has denied these allegations. He enjoys the presumption of innocence and vigorously denies these charges. He intends to fight them.” Once one of the most powerful and admired movie producers in Hollywood, Weinstein has had a steep fall in the last seven months since The New York Times and The New Yorker published exposés in which numerous women accused him of luring them to hotel rooms, ostensibly to talk business, then making unwanted sexual advances.

The stories, which won a Pulitzer Prize, became a catalyst for the #MeToo movement and prompted a cascade of revelations about other successful men who have abused their power to sexually harass women in the worlds of media, the arts, sports, haute cuisine and entertainment.

More than 80 women, including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, have come forward with similar stories about Weinstein. Some accused him of using physical force to compel them to have sex. Others said he tried to barter parts in movies for sex or threatened to ruin their careers if they did not comply.

Despite investigations in London, Los Angeles and New York, the accounts did not lead to a criminal prosecution, until two weeks ago, when Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. became the first prosecutor to say he had enough evidence to arrest Weinstein.

Lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi handed a copy of indictment to the defense along with a voluntary disclosure report, which lists the evidence against Weinstein.

Brafman said he intended to challenge the indictment on several grounds, including how it was presented to the grand jury. Justice James M. Burke said he would decide the pretrial motions by Sept. 20, when Weinstein is scheduled to return to court.

Manhattan prosecutors have said they may try to persuade the judge to let them present evidence about past allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein that are not charged in the indictment. This would be done to establish a pattern of behavior, much as prosecutors did to win a conviction against Bill Cosby at his sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania.

But Brafman said he would fight to keep that evidence out. Under New York case law, it is difficult for prosecutors in the state to introduce evidence at trial about earlier uncharged crimes.

The grand jury that handed up the indictment May 30 is still hearing from witnesses and could add charges. Prosecutors are also digging into the books of Weinstein’s companies, searching for evidence of financial crimes.

Investigators continue to interview women who have said Weinstein forced them to have sex with him. On Monday, for instance, prosecutors met with Melissa Thompson, an entrepreneur who asserted in a lawsuit filed Friday that Weinstein overpowered her and raped her during what was supposed to be a sales pitch at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in September 2011, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an open investigation. Much of Weinstein’s half-hour in court was taken up with a discussion of whether Brafman had a conflict of interest in representing the producer because his former associate, Alex Spiro, had spoken with Thompson last fall about representing her.

Spiro maintains he left Brafman’s firm before Thompson contacted him. He says spoke briefly with her on the telephone and then referred her to another lawyer.

But Thompson and her lawyer contend in the lawsuit filed Friday that Spiro led her to believe he still worked for Brafman and she sent him a videotape of her meeting with Weinstein, which she said supported her claim.

Brafman told Burke he never communicated with Thompson and did not know she existed before last week. He said he had no knowledge of her communications with Spiro and Spiro “never had anything to do with Mr. Weinstein.”

Illuzzi said the district attorney’s office did not object to Brafman continuing to represent Weinstein as long as Brafman agreed to forgo cross-examining Thompson on her communications with Spiro. She told the judge the prosecution had no current plans to call her.

Burke asked Weinstein if he agreed to waive his right to have his lawyer cross-examine Thompson on her contacts with Spiro. “Yes,” Weinstein answered.

The indictment charges Weinstein with first-degree and third-degree rape as well as first-degree criminal sexual act, which covers forced oral or anal sex. If Weinstein is convicted of the top charges, he faces a penalty of five to 25 years in prison.

The criminal sex act count stems from an encounter with Lucia Evans, a marketing executive who told investigators that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 during what she thought would be a casting meeting at the Miramax office in Tribeca. The victim in the rape case has not been publicly identified. Prosecutors have said she was attacked on March 18, 2013, inside a Doubletree Hotel at 569 Lexington Ave.