BY TOM HAYS and MICHAEL R. SISAK
It’s the defense’s go-to question at Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial: If the once-revered Hollywood mogul is a revolting sexual predator, as prosecutors and scores of women allege, why did some of his accusers keep interacting with him for years after their alleged assaults?
Prosecutors hope to give jurors some answers and neutralize that line of questioning before too long with the help of Dr. Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist who testified about the same issues at the 2018 retrial that ended in Bill Cosby’s conviction on charges he drugged and molested a woman years earlier.
In her opening statement earlier this week, prosecutor Meghan Hast told jurors the expert witness set to testify Friday will dispel “myths” about how victims behave during and after rapes and sexual assaults.
In evaluating hundreds of victims, Ziv has found most victims “are assaulted by someone they know, don’t physically resist or try to fight off their attacker, don’t immediately report the assault and reach back out to their attacker,” Hast said.
But Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis cautioned jurors in his opening that Ziv hasn’t actually examined any of Weinstein’s accusers. Cheronis zeroed in on a message from one telling Weinstein that she loved him and wanted him to meet her mother.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that’s not how you talk to your predator,” Cheronis said.
Ziv is expected to be the prosecution’s third witness at the New York City trial of the once-powerful mogul whose downfall catalyzed the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in his New York apartment in 2006 and raping an aspiring actress in a New York hotel room in 2013.
The producer behind such Oscar-winning movies as “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love” has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual.
Thursday’s court session was consumed by actress Annabella Sciorra’s testimony that Weinstein overpowered and raped her when he showed up at the door of her Manhattan apartment in 1993 or 1994.
Keeping with strategy, Weinstein’s lawyers seized on her actions after the alleged assault. On cross-examination, for example, defense attorney Donna Rotunno questioned Sciorra’s decision to make the 1997 Weinstein-produced film “Copland,” considering their history.
Sciorra, now 59, claimed she wasn’t aware of Weinstein’s involvement until she agreed to appear in the film, in part because neither his name nor that of his movie studio appeared on the script she used to audition.
Rotunno, known as a #MeToo skeptic, also challenged Sciorra’s testimony that she was dismayed to find out she was booked in a hotel room right next to Weinstein’s on a trip to the Cannes Film Festival to promote “Copland.”
Sciorra told the jury of seven men and five women that she got another jolt when she opened her hotel room door early one morning to find Weinstein standing there in his underwear holding a bottle of oil in one hand and a video in the other.
“You already know Harvey Weinstein is in the room next door to you, correct?” said an incredulous Rotunno. “You already know that the last time you heard a knock at the door and answered it without seeing who was on the other end didn’t go well, correct?”
Sciorra’s allegations are outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges on their own, but her testimony could be a factor as prosecutors look to show that Weinstein has engaged in a pattern of predatory behavior.
Prosecutors plan to call three other accusers as witnesses for the same purpose during the monthlong trial.
With Sciorra’s testimony fresh in their memories, jurors could soon hear from actress Rosie Perez, one of two friends she said she told about the alleged rape long before she went public with the allegations in an October 2017 article in The New Yorker.
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon previewed Perez’s testimony in court after the jury went home for the day, aiming to persuade Judge James Burke to allow her to take the witness stand as what’s known as a “prompt outcry” witness.
Such witnesses are allowed to corroborate an accuser’s claim that they reported a sex crime to someone else soon after it happened. Weinstein’s lawyers are objecting, saying her testimony won’t meet that standard. Burke has yet to rule.
According to Illuzzi, Perez would tell jurors that she spoke to Sciorra one night after the alleged rape and that Sciorra told her, in effect: “I think something bad happened to me. I believe I was raped.”
Iluzzi said Perez will testify she heard more about the assault from other people while Sciorra was out of the country for a film obligation and that they then had another conversation. Sciorra testified Thursday that, at the time, she was having run-ins with Weinstein banging on her hotel room door. Illuzzi said Perez will testify that Sciorra told her, in effect: “I don’t want him to get me again.”
Through these conversations, Perez surmised that Weinstein was the person Sciorra was talking about, Illuzzi said, and in effect said: “Oh my God, Harvey Weinstein was the person who raped you, isn’t that right?”
“Sciorra was very upset,” Illuzzi said, summarizing the conversation. “She says: ‘My God, I don’t even remember telling you, but yes, he was the one and he did this to me.’”