Weinstein defense grills actress Annabella Sciorra about alleged rape

US

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Actress Annabella Sciorra testified on Thursday that Harvey Weinstein pinned her hands behind her head and violently raped her more than 25 years ago, becoming the first accuser to take the stand against the former Hollywood producer in his sexual assault trial.

“He had intercourse with me as I tried to fight, but I couldn’t fight anymore because he had my hands locked,” she told the New York jury of seven men and five women. Weinstein, sitting at the defense table, appeared mostly to be looking down.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women, Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann.

He has said all of his sexual encounters with women were consensual.

The trial is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with allegations against powerful men in business and politics.

Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Weinstein reshaped the independent film industry with critically acclaimed pictures such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

Actresses Ellen Barkin, Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette sent Twitter messages of support to Sciorra, best known for her role in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” Barkin was in the courtroom.

Sciorra’s allegation from the winter of 1993-94 is too old to be charged as a separate crime, but prosecutors hope it will show that Weinstein was a repeat sexual predator, a charge that could put him in prison for life.

On Wednesday, Weinstein’s lawyer said during opening statements that Sciorra had in the past described the encounter as consensual. Defense attorneys said that emails from the accusers to Weinstein would show they maintained warm relations, which could undermine a case that appears to rely primarily on the testimony of the accusers.

Sciorra told the jury that the evening had started with Weinstein giving her a ride home from an Irish restaurant. After dropping her off, he knocked on her door and came inside uninvited.

Then, she said, he dragged her into her bedroom and pinned her hands down behind her head.

She testified that after forcing intercourse on her, he performed oral sex on her as she protested.

“It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual,” she said. “It was like a seizure or something.”

Actor Annabella Sciorra is questioned by prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon (not seen) on the stand in front of Judge James Burke as film producer Harvey Weinstein sits during his sexual assault trial at New York Criminal Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. January 23, 2020 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

One of Weinstein’s attorneys, Donna Rotunno, methodically sought to undercut Sciorra’s account.

Rotunno repeatedly asked Sciorra if she had tried to get away from Weinstein and whether she had fought back during the alleged rape.

Sciorra said she did not recall the details but repeated that she felt she could not escape.

“He was frightening,” she said.

During rapid-fire questioning, Rotunno grilled Sciorra about whether she had called the police, gone to the hospital or told anyone she had been raped.

Sciorra said she had not.

“At the time, I didn’t understand that it was rape,” she said.

The actress spoke softly but maintained her composure during the cross-examination, which was expected to continue in the afternoon.

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Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said on Wednesday that the women kept in touch with Weinstein because they “felt trapped.” She told jurors they should not discount the allegations simply because Weinstein did not fit the profile of a rapist grabbing victims “in a back alley.”

Sciorra told prosecutors that she saw Weinstein several weeks later at a dinner where she tried to confront him and told him how she fainted during the alleged attack.

She said he responded by saying, “That’s what all the nice Catholic girls say.”

She said Weinstein leaned in and said: “This remains between you and I.” Though he laughed, his tone was “very menacing,” Sciorra said.

Writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Reporting By Brendan Pierson and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis

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