Are ya laughing now, Harvey? Accused mass rapist Harvey Weinstein let out a big ol’ belly laugh during his defense attorney’s closing argument at his rape trial in Los Angeles earlier this month, apparently because watching one of the plaintiffs be ridiculed was just too delightful to pretend otherwise.
I doubt that the former king of Hollywood was feeling quite so jolly on Monday evening, since after nine days of deliberations, the jury did find him guilty of rape. But it also found him not guilty of violating a second accuser, and couldn’t decide on two others, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, whose testimony about what he did to her during what was supposed to be a business meeting could not have been more raw.
What did she ever stand to gain from testifying? In one sense, exactly what she did get out of it, which was nothing. Well, except being called a bimbo and a liar who’d slept with Weinstein willingly — transactionally, Weinstein’s lawyers kept saying, during the two wrenching days she spent sobbing on the witness stand. (Asked to point out her attacker in court, she burst into tears: “He’s wearing a suit and a blue tie and he’s staring at me.” Sometimes, she cried so hard that she was difficult to understand, calling out, “Oh God!” and “I just wanted to get the f— out of there.”)
Despite the outcome, she did get the satisfaction of standing up for herself, for this hulking bully’s more than 100 other accusers, and for sexual assault victims everywhere. That took some fortitude.
But that she got nowhere with the jury is disappointing, too. Eight members were ready to convict Weinstein of raping her, and four were not.
“Throughout the trial,” the first partner said in a statement after the verdict, “Weinstein’s lawyers used sexism, misogyny, and bullying tactics to intimidate, demean, and ridicule us survivors. To all survivors out there — I see you, I hear you, and I stand with you.”
She did, and paid a price for doing so.
Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who represented gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar, said in a statement that “guilty on any charge is a win for victims,” in part because it “shows that the defense’s old-fashioned strategy of blaming and shaming the victims can backfire in the post #MeToo era. The way the defense came out of the gate in opening statements, aggressively attempting to shame and embarrass these women simply does not work like it used to.”
Doesn’t it? As much as I want to believe that, I feel more like former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, who said in a statement that “the straight acquittal for charges relating to one Jane Doe is a huge win for the defense. … Three women came and publicly testified to the assault they said they suffered and they were unable to get a guilty verdict. It’s a pretty big blow for those women. If the California governor’s wife can’t convince 12 jurors that someone who is already a convicted sex offender sexually assaulted her too, then what is an ordinary Jane Doe going to do?”
Keep quiet? Actually, I did worry that “an ordinary Jane Doe” might have fared better, especially with the defense working the phrase “her husband, the governor,” into practically every sentence. I also wondered about whether some on the jury might resent her privilege, if not her politics.
She did not hold back on the stand, even talking about how, in a desperate attempt to get Weinstein to see her as a human being instead of a “blow-up doll,” she told him about losing her sister at a young age, in a golf cart accident for which she’d always felt responsible. He wasn’t moved by that, though, and neither, apparently, was the jury.
In his closing argument, Weinstein attorney Alan Jackson said his client had done nothing wrong. “Fury does not make fact,” he said, and “tears do not make truth.” No one would argue with that. Though if either facts or truth mattered, we’d have a completely different justice system.
Melinda Henneberger is a Sacramento Bee columnist. ©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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