In a mirror image of his days presiding over Hollywood red carpets, the disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was led in handcuffs past a gantlet of photographers on Friday as he appeared in court to face charges that he had raped one woman and forced another to perform oral sex.
Mr Weinstein’s appearance in Manhattan Criminal Court lasted barely 10 minutes, but stood not only as a breakthrough in the investigation into sex-crime claims against him but as a watershed in the larger #MeToo movement.
After decades of harnessing his wealth and power to silence women — and after weathering an earlier criminal inquiry into groping allegations — his reign as a film-industry titan suffered a decisive blow in, of all places, the shopworn arraignment courtroom, where he was among the morning cattle call of defendants.
It was 9.25am when Mr Weinstein — in a dark blazer, a light-blue sweater and an untucked button-down shirt — was escorted into courtroom AR-1 by Sergeant Keri Thompson and Detective Nicholas DiGaudio, two investigators from the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Division.
The unit had been pushing hard for months on Cyrus R Vance Jr, the Manhattan district attorney, to pursue a case against Mr Weinstein, particularly after Mr Vance declined to prosecute the groping case of an Italian model, Ambra Battilana, three years ago because of what he called a lack of evidence.
As the hearing opened, Mr Weinstein, still in handcuffs and looking vaguely shellshocked, was led with his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, into the well of the court where he stood in front of Judge Kevin McGrath. The lead prosecutor in the case, Joan Illuzzi, announced the charges against him: first-degree rape and third-degree rape in one case; and first-degree criminal sex act in another.
The criminal sex act count stemmed from an encounter with Lucia Evans, who first told The New Yorker, and then investigators from Mr Vance’s office, that Mr Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him during what she expected would be a casting meeting at the Miramax office in TriBeCa in 2004.
The victim in the rape case has not been publicly identified, but prosecutors said the alleged attack occurred on March 18, 2013, at 569 Lexington Avenue, the address for the DoubleTree Metropolitan Hotel.
After noting the charges had emerged after “months of investigation,” Ms Illuzzi added the inquiry had shown “that this defendant used his money, power and position to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually”.
Ms Illuzzi also said that the investigation would continue and she asked Judge McGrath to issue an order of protection against Mr Weinstein on behalf of one of the women, who was not identified. A grand jury remains empaneled in the case and is still looking into whether Mr Weinstein abused more women and used his vast financial resources to keep them quiet.
Mr Weinstein said nothing during the hearing, standing with his back to a roomful of reporters. He was not required to enter a plea because he was arrested on a criminal complaint, rather than an indictment. But after the hearing, Mr Brafman said his client intended to plead not guilty.
By Wednesday, Mr Weinstein will also have to decide whether he plans to testify in front of the grand jury.
As the hearing neared an end, Mr Brafman, one of New York City’s top defence lawyers, handed Mr Weinstein’s passport to Ms Illuzzi and paid his bail with a $1million cashier’s check. As part of his bail package, he has agreed to wear a monitoring device and restrict his travel to New York and Connecticut. When the proceeding was over, Mr Weinstein was allowed to slip out of an employee door at the back of the courthouse, where he climbed into a waiting Toyota.
All told, his passage through the courts took about an hour, a far shorter and much less grueling ordeal than most defendants endure.
Outside the courthouse, Mr Brafman told a scrum of reporters that he would “move quickly” to dismiss the charges, calling them “constitutionally flawed and factually unsubstantiated”.
“I anticipate that the women who have made these allegations, when subjected to cross-examination — in the event we get that far — will not be believed by 12 people,” Mr Brafman said. He continued: “Assuming we get 12 fair people who are not consumed by the movement that seems to have overtaken this case.”
Hinting at a potential line of defense, Mr Brafman also drew a distinction between bad behaviour and criminal conduct. “Mr Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood,” he said. “Bad behaviour is not on trial in this case.”
As is the case in many sex crimes prosecutions, whether the charges brought on Friday ultimately stick is likely to hinge on the issue of the complainants’ credibility. It remains unclear how much physical evidence investigators have found to corroborate their stories, and Mr Brafman in his comment promised “a vigorous cross-examination”.
How it happened
The day had started early for Mr Weinstein. Around 7.30am, he walked into the First Precinct station house in Lower Manhattan, flanked by several sex crimes detectives and hounded by another gaggle of reporters and photographers. Toting three large books under his arm, he looked up without saying a word as shutters clicked and onlookers called out, “Harvey!”.
He was fingerprinted and formally booked and waited in a holding cell for detectives to finish paperwork. Then, about an hour later, he was led from the stationhouse in TriBeCa and taken to the court at 100 Centre Street, his arms pinned behind him in three sets of handcuffs to accommodate his girth, a law enforcement official said.
The books he had been carrying — among them Elia Kazan: A Biography, by Richard Schickel, and Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution, by Todd S. Purdum — were gone.
The charges against Mr Weinstein followed a wave of accusations that led women around the world — some of them famous, but many of them not — to come forward with accounts of being sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men.
Spawning a global movement
Those stories spawned the global #MeToo movement, and since then, the ground has shifted beneath men who for years had benefited from a code of silence around their predatory behavior.
What took you so long Harvey? pic.twitter.com/MUFB34fWai
— Asia Argento (@AsiaArgento) May 25, 2018
We got you, Harvey Weinstein, we got you
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) May 25, 2018
He used to be the king of Tribeca. Now he’s turning himself in there. https://t.co/Fs9Sf1z2f2
— jodikantor (@jodikantor) May 25, 2018
Mr Vance’s prosecutors, for example, conducted dozens of interviews in New York and elsewhere and issued hundreds of subpoenas. A similar but separate federal investigation is also being conducted into Mr. Weinstein’s finances and into the question of whether he violated stalking laws in his dealings with women who say he abused them.
The First Police Precinct stationhouse, where Mr Weinstein was arrested, was not unfamiliar to him or his accusers. Three years ago, Ms Battilana, the model, accused Mr Weinstein of groping her during a meeting in his office, and spoke to detectives at the same station house, on Varick Street.
The next day, with detectives watching and recording, Mr Weinstein and Ms Battilana met at the TriBeCa Grand, where Mr Weinstein acknowledged he had touched her breasts and promised not to do so again.
But he was not asked about putting his hand up Ms Battilana’s skirt as she had alleged. Detectives took Mr Weinstein to the First Police Precinct for questioning, but as soon as the groping allegation came up, he halted the interview and asked for a lawyer, the police said.
Unlike in the case announced on Friday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office decided that time not to charge him.
-The New York Times