Harvey Weinstein will not testify in his own defense at his Los Angeles rape trial, and his attorneys are expected to wrap their case Wednesday, meaning the disgraced mogul’s fate could be in the hands of jurors by the end of the week.
Attorney Mark Werksman said he plans to call only six witnesses, four of whom completed their testimony during a brisk two hours in court Monday.
Weinstein’s decision not to testify is in keeping with the defense strategy in the mogul’s New York trial, in which he also declined to take the stand. The only time Weinstein has spoken publicly about the raft of sexual abuse allegations that led to his professional downfall and eventual criminal prosecution was at his 2020 sentencing, after he was convicted of rape in Manhattan.
During that proceeding, he claimed he couldn’t adequately defend himself because supportive witnesses had been scared into silence by media scrutiny.
“People losing their jobs over the fact that they testified for me … people being afraid they are going to lose their jobs, is not the right atmosphere for the United States of America,” Weinstein said in 2020.
Weinstein, 70, faces seven counts of rape and sexual battery stemming from allegations made by four women who say he groped or raped them in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills hotels between 2004 and 2013. The accusers include Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who is married to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Originally, Weinstein faced 11 counts, but a fifth accuser decided not to testify, forcing the prosecution to drop four counts related to her claims this month. If convicted as charged, Weinstein — who is serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York — would face a de facto life sentence in California.
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said “less is more” for Weinstein’s defense team.
Given his conviction in New York and the overwhelming amount of negative information about the disgraced Hollywood kingmaker that is available to jurors, Levenson said his attorneys would be wise to refocus the jury’s attention on inconsistencies in the testimony of his accusers.
“The defense may feel that their best shot at undercutting the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses is by finding evidence that contradicts the accusers, even on small points,” she said. “This is a case where the prosecution witnesses’ credibility is on the line. They will do what they can do challenge it without taking too many risks.”
A similar approach has been used by attorneys representing actor Danny Masterson, whose rape trial is down the hall from the Weinstein courtroom. In that case, Masterson’s attorneys did not call defense witnesses, playing out their entire case through blistering cross-examination of the three women accusing the “That ’70s Show” star of sexual assault.
On Monday, Werksman and co-counsel Alan Jackson called witnesses who raised doubts about bits and pieces of allegations levied by a woman identified in court as Jane Doe 1, an Italian model who accused Weinstein of violently raping her following a 2013 film festival in Beverly Hills.
A Los Angeles Fire Department official on Monday corroborated reports that a fire alarm went off inside Mr. C’s hotel shortly after midnight on Feb. 18, 2013, around the same time Jane Doe 1 alleges the sexual assault occurred. On cross-examination, Jackson repeatedly brought up the fire alarm, which Jane Doe 1 said she didn’t hear.
“You didn’t hear the fire alarm because you weren’t in your room at 12:41 a.m.,” Jackson said to Jane Doe 1 earlier in the trial.
The defense also attempted to question a former manager at Mr. C’s about a document that purported to show Jane Doe 1 stayed at the same hotel five weeks later, under the same alias she used to book her reservation during the trip where Weinstein allegedly assaulted her.
Jackson had sought to imply no woman would behave in such a way after being violently raped at the same location, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench barred Jackson from doing so before the manager took the stand.
Although the purported discrepancies may seem small, they could prove critical. In his opening statement, Werksman separated the accusers into pairs. While he accused Siebel Newsom and masseuse Juls Bindi of recasting “transactional” sexual encounters with Weinstein as assaults after the advent of the #MeToo movement, he claimed Jane Doe 1 and accuser Lauren Young simply made up their claims.
The case will continue Wednesday, with the defense expected to rest in the morning and closing arguments scheduled for the afternoon. The jury could begin deliberating as early as Thursday.
Times staff writer Noah Goldberg contributed to this report.