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

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    In part two of the New York Times' explosive expose chronicling decades of sexual harassment allegations waged against studio mogul Harvey Weinstein- several actresses went public with their stories for the first time.

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    Gwyneth Paltrow: "I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified," Paltrow said about her experience as a then 22-year-old on the set of 1996's Emma.

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    Anjelina Jolie recalled a similar incident. "I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth, and as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did," Jolie said in an e-mail to the Times.

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    Italian film star Asia Argento, the 42-year-old daughter of iconic horror director Dario Argento, said Weinstein forced oral sex on her 20 years ago. She told the publication she had maintained her silence until now for fear that Weinstein would "crush" her.

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    Model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, a former Miss Italy finalist, told the New Yorker she met Weinstein March 2015 at a reception for a show he was producing in New York. She said Weinstein "lunged at her, groping her breasts and attempting to put a hand up her skirt" at a meeting in his offices in Tribeca.

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    French actress Judith Godreche met Weinstein for breakfast at a hotel in 1996. He later invited her up to his suite to see the "view". But he later asked for a massage and pressed himself against Godreche, even pulling off her sweater.

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    Rosanna Arquette: In the early 1990s, Weinstein asked the young actress to stop by a hotel in Beverly Hills to pick up a script. She remembers telling him "I'm not that girl," after he asked her for a massage.

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    Rose McGowan: The actress reportedly reached a US$100,000 settlement with Weinstein in 1997, after an "episode in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival".

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    Ashley Judd: The accused Weinstein of inviting her to his hotel room, appearing in a bathrobe, offering her a massage, and asking her if she wanted to watch him take a shower.

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    Former actress and screenwriter Louisette Geiss held a news conference where she alleged that her encounter with Weinstein took place at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. He invited her to his office for a meeting, and soon excused himself and returned naked, wearing only a bathrobe. He later asked that she watch him masturbate.

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    Mira Sorvino: The actress starred in several of Weinstein's films, told The New Yorker that he sexually harassed her and tried to pressure her into a physical relationship while they worked together.

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    British actress Romola Garai told The Guardian she felt "violated" following a meeting with Harvey Weinstein in his London hotel room when she was 18 in which he was in a bathrobe. Garai said that once she was in the room the two had a brief discussion about film but she felt "belittled" by his "abuse of power."

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    Model and actress Cara Delevingne accused Weinstein of propositioning her and attempting to kiss her after a meeting about an upcoming film. "He said to me that if I was gay or decided to be with a woman especially in public, that I'd never get the role of a straight woman or make it as an actress in Hollywood," Delevingne said in a statement.

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    French actress Lea Seydoux became the latest in a string of female Hollywood stars speaking out against Weinstein. Also subjected to his advances, she alleged "everyone" in Hollywood "knew what Harvey was up to".

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    In a revealing piece written for Variety, Heather Graham revealed that Weinstein asked her to have sex with him in exchange for being included in his movie in the early 2000s. He told Graham that he had an agreement with his wife in which he could sleep with whomever he wanted whenever he was out of town. "I walked out of the meeting feeling uneasy," Graham wrote.

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    Kate Winslet has revealed in an interview with Los Angeles times why she didn't thank the disgraced film producer in her 2009 Oscars speech. "That was deliberate. That was absolutely deliberate," Winslet said. "I remember being told. 'Make sure you thank Harvey if you win'. And I remember turning around and saying, 'No I won't. No I won't.' ... If people aren't well-behaved, why would I thank him?""

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    British actress Lysette Anthony said he had attacked her in her London home in the late '80s. Anthony said It happened after she had got to know the producer when she starred in the 1982 film Krull, according to The Telegraph.

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    Kate Beckinsale also came forward about Weinstein sexually harassing her when she was just 17 and hampering her career. She posted her statement to Instagram with a picture of her as a teenager and wrote that when she was called to meet him at the Savoy Hotel in London, Weinstein opened the door in a bathrobe. She left the room "uneasy but unscathed".

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    Actress Eva Green has said she felt "shocked and disgusted" after an encounter with Weinstein in which she allegedly had to "push him off" during a business meeting. The Bond girl gave her statement after her mother told a French radio that her daughter "was a victim of this horrible man".

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.

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