In closing arguments Friday, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said the Harvey Weinstein rape case is not only about “power, manipulation, and abuse” but also a ”wanton lack of human empathy” where people who aren’t rich or powerful enough don’t matter.
Weinstein was the “master of his universe,” Illuzzi-Orbon told jurors, one where the women — standing in line to get into his circle — were “merely ants he could step on without consequences.”
And once they were in Weinstein’s world, Illuzzi-Orbon said, the women didn’t get to “complain when they are stepped on, spit on, demoralized, and raped, and abused” by the once-powerful Hollywood mogul.
But Weinstein “underestimated” these women, Illuzzi-Orbon said.
She said he tried to keep them close to make sure that “they wouldn’t walk out of the shadows and call him exactly what he was: an abusive rapist.”
During his defense’s closing arguments Thursday, attorney Donna Rotunno said that in the “alternate universe” prosecutors had created, “women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they made to further their own careers.”
Weinstein, 67, is charged with one count of first-degree rape, one count of third-degree rape, two counts of predatory sexual assault, and one count of first-degree criminal sexual assault in relation to allegations made by two women. If convicted, he could potentially face life in prison.
He has maintained that all the sexual encounters were consensual.
Over the course of five weeks, six women have testified in the trial, providing often harrowing and graphic accounts of how Weinstein allegedly raped or sexually assaulted them.
On Friday, the prosecutor sought to draw parallels between the different encounters with Weinstein that spanned decades to show that he was a “seasoned” sexual predator with a pattern of manipulating and coercing women into nonconsensual and degrading acts.
The charges against Weinstein are based on the allegations of Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley. Mann, an aspiring actor, said Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel in 2013, and Haley alleged that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006.
Through the trial, Weinstein’s lawyers have sought to discredit Mann and Haley by questioning why they continued to have consensual sex with Weinstein and why they stayed in touch with him after being assaulted.
In her closing argument, Illuzzi-Orbon said the women did not report their alleged assaults and continued to have contact with Weinstein because none of them knew that what was happening to them was also happening to others.
Illuzzi-Orbon described the woman as being “disposables” whom Weinstein isolated from each other.
“They can feel like they’re the only one,” she said. “That’s the whole mark of a predator.”
She said that Weinstein got them into situations that made them feel “stupid” and “belittled.”
“And stupid and belittled people do not complain,” Illuzzi-Orbon said. “They don’t stick up for themselves and they sure as hell don’t complain about their shame in a public place and in a public setting, say like a courtroom.”
During the trial, Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra also testified that Weinstein allegedly raped her in the early ’90s. Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Rotunno, attacked Sciorra’s testimony Thursday, saying she only did it to “stay relevant” and to revive her acting career.
Illuzzi-Orbon on Friday hit back at Rotunno’s characterization.
“How Hollywood movie star is it for Annabella to have to tell you she was cutting herself,” she said, providing jurors with a graphic retelling of Sciorra’s self-harm.
“People with projects and movies are going to want that image connected to the films they put Annabella in? This is a big career move for Annabella Sciorra? Really?” Illuzzi-Orbon said.
Illuzzi-Orbon is expected to finish her closing arguments on Friday, and the jury is likely to begin deliberations early next week.
The verdict in the high-profile case will be viewed as a referendum on the #MeToo movement that was ignited after sexual assault allegations against Weinstein were reported in 2017.
The jury of seven men and five women will now decide whether to believe the women and the prosecutors who have described Weinstein as a predator who sexually exploited women trying to succeed in Hollywood or whether to believe his lawyers who characterized the defendant as an innocent man who has become the “target of a cause and of a movement.”
In her closing arguments on Thursday, Rotunno urged jurors to make the “unpopular” decision to acquit Weinstein despite public perception and an “overzealous” media and prosecution.
“You don’t have to like Mr. Weinstein,” she told the jury. “This is not a popularity contest. We are not here to criminalize morality.”
She also cast doubt on the women’s credibility, claiming that they “relabeled” what were consensual sexual encounters with Weinstein to fit the national narrative that he was a “monster” and a “villain.”
She said all the women made “choices” in how they interacted with Weinstein and how they tried to advance their Hollywood careers.