NEW YORK — After dozens of women came forward to share stories of alleged sexual assault at the hands of one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday.
Weinstein was convicted last month of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haley and aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2006 and 2013, respectively, after a dramatic weeks-long trial in Lower Manhattan. The Miramax co-founder has denied all wrongdoing and plans to appeal.
Six women testified against Weinstein during the trial, describing interactions with him that were a combination of brutally violent and mentally draining. Mann, who had a consensual but abusive relationship with Weinstein that she alleged turned violent whenever she refused Weinstein’s advances, had to be helped from the stand and was led out of court sobbing in the midst of three days of marathon testimony last month.
Mann opened on Wednesday by addressing that moment head-on, saying, “The day my uncontrollable screams were heard from the witness room, was the day my whole voice came back into my power.” Those were the screams she couldn’t make when Weinstein raped her, she said.
Mann said her rape was “preventable,” that Weinstein was “a known offender whose crimes were covered up.”
“The recurring nightmare of how I feel is just as real as the day it happened,” she said.
Haley told the court that after Weinstein assaulted her in 2006, she has “lived in fear and paranoia on a daily basis.” She suffered routine panic attacks and a private investigator began questioning her friends after she came forward, she said.
In asking Burke to hand down the near-maximum sentence, the case’s lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, emphasized a narrative the prosecution sought to establish at every step of the trial: that Weinstein used his power first to entrap his victims, and then to silence them.
“How did he use that power? He got drunk on the power,” she said. “He saw no authority over him. No limit to what he could take. No desire he could not grant himself. The young, struggling dreamers were not even people to him.”
After more than 80 women came forward to accuse the former mogul of sexual harassment and assault at the height of the #MeToo movement, Weinstein was arrested and led into a New York City Police Department precinct in 2018. Prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of sexual assault involving Mann, Haley and actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein forced his way into her Manhattan apartment and assaulted her in the early 1990s.
Sciorra’s case was too old to prosecute on its own, but New York prosecutors used it as the basis for two counts of predatory sexual assault. If convicted of the crime, which would have required jurors to believe Weinstein raped Sciorra and either Mann or Haley, he would have faced a minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum life sentence.
But Weinstein was acquitted of both those counts. He was convicted of committing a criminal sexual act against Haley, who said Weinstein forced oral sex on her in his apartment in 2006, and third-degree rape against Mann, who said the former mogul raped her in a Midtown Manhattan hotel in 2013.
The conviction related to Mann carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. But Burke has the option to put Weinstein in prison for up to 25 years for the criminal sexual act conviction, which could essentially ensure that Weinstein spends the rest of his life in prison. The sentences must be served concurrently, so the absolute minimum time Weinstein could spend in prison is five years.
The former mogul spent the entire trial moving with the aid of a walker, the result of a spinal decompression surgery he had last year. Shortly after he was convicted, Weinstein’s lead attorney, Donna Rotunno, told Burke that her client needed injections to prevent losing his eyesight. Weinstein was also hospitalized for heart palpitations the day the verdict came down, delaying his eventual trip to Rikers Island.
In an 11-page memo filed last week, prosecutors asked Burke to impose a sentence that would reflect the “total lack of remorse” Weinstein has shown for his crimes. The document outlined a litany of uncharged allegations against Weinstein, including 16 different instances of sexual assault and harassment, some of which were previously unknown.
Prosecutors laid out allegations from as far back as 1978, when a woman who worked for a music company run by Weinstein said she woke up to him trying to have sex with her as she slept in a New York City hotel room.
Many of the crimes alleged in the sentencing memo followed the same pattern as the allegations made in court that led to Weinstein’s conviction — he would use his industry leverage to isolate a woman, then use that same power to ensure her silence.
By James Queally
Los Angeles Times