Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to rape, sex assault charges

Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to rape, sex assault charges
PHOTO: AFP

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault charges in a New York courtroom Tuesday -- the next step in a high-stakes legal battle that the #MeToo movement hopes will end with the disgraced Hollywood mogul behind bars.

The 66-year-old producer, whose career imploded in a blaze of accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse from dozens of women that triggered a global reckoning about harassment in the workplace, could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Weinstein, who appeared in court in a dark blazer, jeans and a tie, uttered only a few words at the brief arraignment hearing in Manhattan. He has steadfastly denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.

"Not guilty," he said in a barely audible voice when asked for his plea on the three counts he is facing. He also replied "Yes" several times as the judge reiterated the conditions of his monitored release.

Weinstein, the onetime Tinseltown powerbroker whose films earned dozens of Oscars, was charged with rape and another sex crime in New York late last month, nearly eight months after the first public allegations against him surfaced.

The twice-married father of five has been indicted for allegedly forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him in 2004, and for allegedly raping another at a Manhattan hotel in 2013.

'We intend to fight'

Benjamin Brafman, one of America's most celebrated criminal defence attorneys, did most of the talking for the mogul at his hearing.

"Mr Weinstein is presumed innocent... however reprehensible the crime may be, it is also reprehensible to falsely accuse someone of rape," Brafman said.

"We intend to fight this in the courtroom."

Brafman says the rape complaint came from a woman who had a 10-year affair with Weinstein, but the information was not confirmed.

The accusation of forced oral sex comes from Lucia Evans, a marketing consultant who, in 2004, was an aspiring actress. She told her story in October to The New Yorker.

Evans says Weinstein spoke to her about a possible role as a model on television reality show "Project Runway," before forcing her into oral sex.

Here are the actresses who've accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse

Dozens of allegations

Since October, nearly 100 women have said they were harassed or sexually abused by Weinstein over a period of more than two decades.

Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are among more than two dozen actresses who say they were sexually harassed by the producer. A few, including Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, say they were raped.

The #MeToo movement has seen people around the world come forward with cases of sexual mistreatment, leading to the downfall of powerful men across industries, including Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.

Comedian Bill Cosby was convicted in April of sexual assault. He will be sentenced later this year.

For Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University in New York and a former federal prosecutor, Weinstein is the "worst of the worst."

"Everything that's come out makes him the most despicable of these people who have been exposed for their sexual misconduct," he said.

Director Brian de Palma recently told French newspaper Le Parisien he plans to tackle Weinstein's story -- as a horror film, with a similar protagonist.

Weinstein has reportedly spent months in treatment for sex addiction. His fashion designer wife, Georgina Chapman, has left him.

He remains free, having posted $1 million bail. He is wearing a GPS monitoring device, and his travel is restricted to the states of New York and Connecticut.

New lawsuits

Weinstein already faces a slew of civil lawsuits, is reportedly under federal investigation and his former studio has filed for bankruptcy.

He is also under criminal investigation in London and Los Angeles, but the criminal charges in New York were the first to be lodged.

Last week, three actresses filed a new lawsuit against Weinstein alleging sexual assault. They urged other victims to come forward and join the complaint.

Even though Weinstein has largely been convicted in the court of public opinion, could he walk free from the courtroom? Experts are divided.

"It is hard to predict the outcome," said Columbia University law professor Suzanne Goldberg.

"Regardless of what's happening in the #MeToo movement, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weinstein engaged in these unlawful acts with these particular women."

Gershman said Weinstein faces an uphill climb.

"Even the best lawyer -- and Brafman is one of the best -- can't work magic. The evidence is the evidence," Gershman said.

Purchase this article for republication.

BRANDED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.