Harvey Weinstein strolled the paparazzi-lined red carpet before the 2013 Academy Awards accompanied by his wife, designer Georgina Chapman.
His films “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Django Unchained” would go on to win Oscars that night, Feb. 24, 2013.
Prosecutors now allege that just a week before his Oscar victories, Weinstein sexually assaulted two women he met during work-related meetings.
That is the narrative Los Angeles County prosecutors will present to a jury — that Weinstein used his power as a Hollywood titan to lure women to his hotel room, where he sexually assaulted them.
Weinstein has denied any wrongdoing.
Weinstein’s trial in a similar case in New York in the coming weeks may give a preview of how he will respond to the criminal charges against him in Los Angeles.
It took L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s team two years to build the case against Weinstein, and much is riding on the details of the evidence her investigators collected. So far, prosecutors have released only relatively brief outlines of their case.
“Two years means the investigators and prosecutors have vetted every possible witness and lead. They explore every nook and cranny of these cases. They’ve thought through all the defense’s potential tactics,” said Dmitry Gorin, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. “Time is a valuable asset in an investigation.”
But Weinstein’s attorneys have known since the fall of 2017, following exposes of his sexual misconduct in the New York Times and New Yorker magazine, that charges could be forthcoming in L.A.
“Weinstein’s defense team has been able to scoop up every potential exculpatory shred of information,” Gorin said.
Gorin and other legal experts said Lacey and her prosecutors must re-create events from seven years ago as best they can.
With little or no physical evidence, it will come down to the testimony of Weinstein’s accusers and others who may have been involved in any incidents or were around the mogul at the time, Gorin said.
Former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said corroboration in cases involving sex crimes can come in many different forms, not just from witnesses. Prosecutors are expected to have other accusers testify against Weinstein, relaying their own allegations against the former producer.
Prosecutors in other sexual assault cases in L.A. have used “supporting witnesses,” such as at the trial of a Pasadena track coach accused of molesting students and in the case of celebrity fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander.
Alexander was convicted of sexually assaulting seven women in 2008. Among the witnesses who testified against the designer were six women whose cases did not result in criminal charges against him.
“In the Weinstein case, there’s no question of the identity of the alleged perpetrator. Is there some corroboration of the elements of the offense as alleged by the victim?” Cooley said. “In a sex crimes case, there are provisions that allow one form of corroboration that can be provided by others who have been similarly victimized, allegedly to show intent, pattern, knowledge and to prove those elements.”
Cooley said additional victims who testified in the trial of Bill Cosby were the reason the comedian and TV star was convicted.
“The Bill Cosby case bears remarkable similarities. That put that case over the top, other victim evidence. One woman alleged it, there wasn’t a lot of corroboration, but there was substantial other victim testimony that showed his motive and intent,” Cooley said.
Weinstein has been charged with four counts of sexual assault in L.A. County stemming from accusations by two women who say the mogul attacked them in hotels in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills in 2013.
Neither of the accusers has been identified publicly. One is a former model and actress who described being assaulted by Weinstein in an interview with The Times in 2017.
She said the incident took place at Mr. C Beverly Hills hotel in February 2013 after she spoke to Weinstein briefly at the Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest. Weinstein “became very aggressive and demanding” in her hotel room while asking her to disrobe, the woman told The Times.
The woman said she showed Weinstein pictures of her children and begged him to stop.
“He grabbed me by the hair and forced me to do something I did not want to do,” she said.
In a motion asking a judge to set Weinstein’s bail at $5 million, L.A. County prosecutors said the woman did not immediately report the assault to police because Weinstein threatened to kill her. She did report the attack to three close confidants in 2013, however, including her priest, law enforcement sources previously told The Times.
Just days later, the second accuser said she had a business meeting with Weinstein and another woman at a hotel in West Los Angeles when he convinced them to visit his hotel suite, according to the bail motion. Once upstairs, the victim “unwittingly” followed Weinstein into a bathroom and the other woman closed the door, trapping her inside, court records show.
At that point, Weinstein disrobed and showered briefly before undressing her, according to the motion. Prosecutors accused Weinstein of groping the woman while masturbating, court records show.
Weinstein attorney Donna Rotunno has yet to address the Los Angeles charges amid jury selection in New York, where Weinstein faces four charges involving two women. But the lawyer has said recently that Weinstein has been made a scapegoat and that there is a celebrity status in accusing him.
“In this great country, you are innocent till proven guilty, and no evidence has yet been presented to a court or jury,” she said. “The government doesn’t want our side to have a voice. I think they believe their side of the story is the only one that matters and only one that counts.”
Legal experts say the defense will seek to plant seeds of doubt about the victims’ stories and use memory experts to question their accounts, noting their failure to report their experiences to anyone or otherwise document their allegations until the movie mogul was a publicly wounded man with a plethora of accusers.
“If he is such a monster, why did these alleged victims not report this when it happened, and if they told others, why did they sit on the information too?” said Louis Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.
Shapiro said Weinstein’s legal team is also likely to frame his accusers as chasing fame and fortune that has otherwise eluded them in Hollywood, “individuals looking for their 15 minutes and more.”
One of the two has retained a well-respected civil lawyer known for obtaining large payouts for plaintiffs in sex cases. “If they have lawyers, the motive of an opportunity is going to be front and center in the defense, and jurors are going to hear evidence to suggest it is a shakedown,” Shapiro said.
It’s unclear whether prosecutors will introduce one other element of that 2013 Oscars season. While announcing the women nominated for the supporting actress award, comedian Seth MacFarlane said: “Congratulations. You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
The line won laughs. In 2017, MacFarlane said he made the joke because a friend had told him that Weinstein had made sexual advances on her.