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Weinstein sexual assault prosecution would be 'the case of the century' — so stakes high for DA

Weinstein sexual assault prosecution would be 'the case of the century' — so stakes high for DA
Harvey Weinstein (Los Angeles Times)

The L.A. district attorney's office announced this week it would not bring sexual assault charges against director James Toback, but it continues to consider what to do about Harvey Weinstein and the sexual assault allegations against him.

The DA has been reviewing the case for several weeks, and prosecutors could take significantly more time to decide what to do.

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The stakes are high, given that revelations against Weinstein began the #MeToo movement and a series of allegations about powerful men in Hollywood and beyond.

"When it comes to sex crimes, Weinstein is the case of the century," said Steve Cooley, former Los Angeles district attorney.

Here is what we know about the case:

What are the allegations against Weinstein?

The case involves an Italian model-actress who alleges Weinstein raped her in a Beverly Hills hotel room five years ago. According to law enforcement sources, detectives believe the case is promising because the woman told her story to three people, including her priest, relatively soon after the alleged attack. LAPD detectives also have obtained bills showing she was at the hotel at the time, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Though the case is far from overwhelming — the sources said detectives have found little physical evidence of an attack and have been unable to secure proof that Weinstein was at the hotel when the woman says the rape occurred — prosecutors will have one additional weapon at their disposal: a California law that allows them to introduce allegations by other women, even those that do not result in criminal charges.

In October, the actress, 38, provided LAPD detectives with what she said was a moment-by-moment account of how Weinstein had "bullied" his way into her hotel room in 2013 and attacked her.

She told The Times that she and Weinstein had spoken briefly on the evening in question at the Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest. Later, she said, he showed up "without warning" in the lobby of her hotel — which surprised her because she didn't tell him where she was staying. He asked to come up to her room. She said she told him no and offered to meet him downstairs, but soon he was knocking on her door.

"He ... bullied his way into my hotel room, saying, 'I'm not going to [have sex with] you, I just want to talk,'" the woman told The Times. "Once inside, he asked me questions about myself, but soon became very aggressive and demanding and kept asking to see me naked."

She said Weinstein repeatedly bragged about his power and influence and told her not to fight him. She tried to show him pictures of her children as she cried and begged him to go away, she said.

"He grabbed me by the hair and forced me to do something I did not want to do," she said. "He then dragged me to the bathroom and forcibly raped me."

She did not tell authorities about the incident at the time, so no rape kit was taken. As a result, the law enforcement source said, there is little physical evidence in the case.

What has Weinstein’s response been?

Weinstein attorneys Blair Berk and Benjamin Brafman have said that their client never engaged in nonconsensual sex acts. On Saturday, they released a statement saying "Mr. Weinstein unequivocally denies there was any criminal conduct."

In the case of the Italian actress, a Weinstein spokeswoman said, it is hard to answer her accusations because her identity has not been officially disclosed to the producer's legal team.

What is the upcoming timeline?

The LAPD spent months investigating the case. It turned it over to prosecutors several weeks ago.

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An experienced sex crimes deputy district attorney from a special task force recently spent more than three hours interviewing the actress, sources said.

Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey established a special sex crime task force for the celebrity cases as the allegations against Weinstein and others expanded.

But experts said it could take months for the DA's office to make its decision on whether to charge Weinstein.

Cooley said all prosecutors are cautious when comes to complex high-profile cases, but the district attorney doesn't really make decisions in such cases — rather, it's the prosecutors in sex crimes units and to some extent the head of criminal prosecutions. "The district attorney isn't making the decision here. It may eventually come to her desk," Cooley said.

Cooley said it is hard to ignore the suspect's name. "Does the evidence show he committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt is the question … but it's hard to forget it is a high-profile celebrity case when the whole world is watching," he said.

Cooley said no prosecutor likes to lose such cases, pointing to another high-profile case that L.A. prosecutors lost. "I had Robert Blake and evidence showed he was guilty of murder, but a jury didn't agree."

What about other allegations against Weinstein?

Some 85 actresses, assistants and models have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Actresses Annabella Sciorra, Rose McGowan, Lysette Anthony and Paz de la Huerta all have publicly accused him of rape.

Of the three Weinstein cases submitted by the LAPD to the district attorney, two are outside the statute of limitations. One is a rape accusation and another a lewd acts allegation. But the accusers' stories could be used if the producer were charged in another case.

Beverly Hills police have two investigations of Weinstein under review by prosecutors. In addition, least five women have made reports to New York law enforcement. The Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom has received reports from nine women.

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