In the months since a long list of famous women across the globe began accusing producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, one Los Angeles case is emerging as the most likely to result in criminal charges.
It 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.
Some legal experts said these additional witnesses could bolster what they described as a "he said, she said" case. The LAPD has forwarded its findings to the L.A. County district attorney's office, which will decide whether to file charges.
Under a 1995 law, California allows alleged sex crime victims to testify as witnesses in order to establish a pattern of behavior or propensity to commit a crime.
"You don't need physical evidence to prosecute Harvey Weinstein. You need admissible evidence that proves your case beyond reasonable doubt," said former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. "You could see a parade of famous actresses testifying."
Cooley and other legal experts said prosecutors can use the testimony of other Weinstein accusers to make the case that the Italian model's allegations are part of a much larger pattern of misconduct by Weinstein.
"These witnesses … could be key given the lack of physical evidence," said Dmitry Gorin, a former sex crimes prosecutor and veteran Los Angeles defense attorney.
Gorin said the producer's attorneys probably would try to exclude testimony from other accusers, arguing that it would unfairly taint the jury and bolster what they consider a weak case.
Weinstein attorneys Blair Berk and Benjamin Brafman have said that their client never engaged in non-consensual 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. Unlike many of Weinstein's more famous accusers, the actress asked not to be publicly identified because she was fearful of retaliation and concerned about protecting her children's privacy.
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.
Some 85 actresses, assistants and models have accused Weinstein of various acts 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.
LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes, who oversees the elite Robbery-Homicide Division, said his detectives were working closely with authorities in New York and London regarding evidence and potential supporting witness statements.
"We aren't in a hurry. We have been meticulous in gathering the evidence," Hayes said. "There won't be a rush to deliver results."
The use of supporting witnesses has proved invaluable in some California sexual abuse cases. (New York does not have a similar law, but experts say prosecutors can on a very limited basis use such evidence in some circumstances if a judge approves.)
In 2005, Orange County prosecutors put on the witness stand three teenage girls who said they had been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a man accused of killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. He was convicted of murder.
And six women whose accusations did not result in criminal charges testified against celebrity fashion designer Anand Jon Alexander, who in 2008 was convicted of sexually assaulting seven women.
In most criminal prosecutions, the admissibility of prior accusations is very limited. But allowing supporting witnesses doesn't guarantee success. Despite such testimony in the 2005 prosecution of singer Michael Jackson, he secured an acquittal on child molestation charges.