Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Harvey Weinstein defense challenges Jennifer Siebel Newsom on rape allegation

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A day after her emotionally charged testimony that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein raped her in 2005, Jennifer Siebel Newsom faced an aggressive interrogation Tuesday over dozens of friendly emails she exchanged with him in the years afterward.

Weinstein attorney Mark Werksman sought to cast doubt on Siebel Newsom’s credibility by questioning her statement that, after the rape, it was weird and scary to run into her assailant from time to time at film industry events.

“I just don’t remember any of this — sorry,” Siebel Newsom told a Los Angeles jury as Werksman asked her to review each of her emails, including some asking to meet Weinstein for coffee or lunch to talk about film projects.

Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein is on trial in L.A. County Superior Court for the alleged rape or sexual assault of Siebel Newsom and three other women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Additional charges stemming from Weinstein’s alleged rape of a fifth woman were dismissed Tuesday after prosecutors told Judge Lisa Lench they did not plan to move forward with those counts.

The woman lives outside the United States and cannot be compelled by subpoena to testify, according to people familiar with the matter. Prosecutors have not mentioned her at the trial.

Siebel Newsom, who sobbed on the witness stand for hours Monday as she disclosed details of the alleged rape, testified in a packed courtroom under tight security again Tuesday, this time mostly under cross-examination. Her husband, Gov. Gavin Newsom, spent both days in a private area down the hall.

Siebel Newsom spent much of the day fending off Werksman, who’d suggested in his opening statement last month that, if she had not cast herself as a victim she would be “just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”

“What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me,” Siebel Newsom said during one round of Werksman’s rapid-fire questioning.

“Your energy is just so intense,” she told him during another.

The rape occurred in Weinstein’s suite at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills in September 2005, a couple of weeks after she met him at the Toronto International Film Festival, Siebel Newsom said.

At the time, she was an aspiring actor and filmmaker trying to break into the upper tiers of the business, and she said she’d gone to the hotel to speak with him about her aspirations on several projects.

Werksman confronted Siebel Newsom with emails showing that, starting about nine months after the alleged rape, she began sending Weinstein emails seeking to meet with him again.

“Are you free for coffee or lunch this coming Monday or Tues,” she wrote to Weinstein in September 2006, saying she was sorry they had missed each other that year at the next Toronto festival.

Werksman asked why she was seeking “to see your rapist as soon as you could.”

“It was just business,” she said. “I was probably just trying to get advice.”

Werksman also inquired about a May 2007 email exchange in which she sought to meet Weinstein during the Cannes Film Festival in France.

“You actually sought out his company at Cannes, true?” Werksman asked.

“I guess I did,” she replied.

Siebel Newsom described her emails as “networking,” telling the jury, “I was just hustling.”

“You were hustling with a man you claim violently raped you?” Werksman asked.

The judge sustained a prosecutor’s objection, and Siebel Newsom did not respond.

Siebel Newsom, who reported the assault to police in April 2020, testified that she sent out hundreds of thousands of emails and did not recall the ones Werksman showed her.

Werksman also sought to emphasize discrepancies between Siebel Newsom’s testimony at the trial and the three earlier statements she made to police, prosecutors and a grand jury. He zeroed in on her confusion over the time of night when she left the Peninsula hotel and the details of Weinstein’s physical contact with her in the hotel room.

Her attorney, Elizabeth Fegan, issued a statement saying Siebel Newsom “felt an obligation to herself, her family and most important, to the women who came forward as well as the women unable to speak out publicly.”

“Throughout her testimony she demonstrated tremendous strength and resolve in telling her truth and stood fast as Weinstein’s defense team ruthlessly tried to discredit her,” Fegan said.

Siebel Newsom ended her testimony with a dramatic exit, after renewed questioning from a prosecutor. Deputy Dist. Atty. Marlene Martinez again asked Siebel Newsom about the most explicit descriptions she had given the day before of the alleged rape.

Responding to final questions on whether she had consented to two specific sex acts with Weinstein, Siebel Newsom twice shrieked, “No!” then left the courtroom looking highly distraught.

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

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