Weinstein faces sentencing, prison in landmark #MeToo case
NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein is back in court Wednesday for the final act of the rape trial that landed him behind bars: a sentencing hearing where the once-powerful film producer will learn just how long he’ll stay in prison for his landmark #MeToo conviction.
Weinstein is scheduled to be sentenced in New York City. He faces a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 29 years in prison for raping an aspiring actress in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006. A second criminal case is pending in California.
Both women that Weinstein was convicted of assaulting are expected to be in court to give victim impact statements before he is sentenced. Weinstein will also have a chance to speak. He opted not to testify at his trial, but at sentencing he won’t have to worry about getting grilled by prosecutors.
Other women who’ve accused Weinstein — including some who testified at his trial — are not permitted to speak at his sentencing under state law. One of those witnesses, Tarale Wulff, who accused Weinstein of raping her in 2005, said in a statement Tuesday that she will still attend and hopes that the sentence “sends a clear message that times have changed.”
Weinstein was convicted on two counts: criminal sex act for the 2006 assault on the production assistant and rape in the third degree for a 2013 attack on another woman. On the criminal sex act count, he faced a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25 years in prison, while the third-degree rape count carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
Weinstein was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from actress Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of a mid-1990s rape. Weinstein maintains his innocence and contends that any sexual activity was consensual.
Newly unsealed documents show the 67-year-old former film producer sought help from billionaires Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg as sexual misconduct allegations against him piled up in October 2017, and that he considered issuing a statement at the time claiming that he was suicidal. There is no evidence to suggest either man responded.
The New York case was the first criminal matter against Weinstein to arise from accusations of more than 90 women, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Uma Thurman. Many of Weinstein’s accusers say he used his Hollywood prestige to befriend them, dangling movie roles to gain their trust.
Weinstein’s lawyers are seeking the minimum sentence of five years in prison because of his age and frail health.
Weinstein, who turns 68 next week, used a walker throughout the trial following recent back surgeries. After his Feb. 24 conviction, he split time between a hospital and a jail infirmary unit, and had a stent inserted last week to unblock an artery.
“Given his age and specific medical risk factors, any additional term of imprisonment above the mandatory minimum — although the grave reality is that Mr. Weinstein may not even outlive that term — is likely to constitute a de facto life sentence,” Weinstein’s lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Monday.
Once Weinstein is sentenced, he’ll be transferred from the city’s jail system to the state prison system. The agency that runs New York’s state prisons said every inmate is evaluated to determine which facility meets his or her security, medical, mental health and other needs.
Martin Horn, the city’s former corrections commissioner, said Weinstein’s celebrity status could make him a target for another inmate looking to make a name for himself, while the gravity of his convictions and sentence could raise suicide concerns.
“No jail wants to have the next Jeffrey Epstein,” said Horn, who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “They’re going to make sure that nothing happens to him while he’s in their custody. Not because he’s important, but just from a public relations point of view, it would be awfully embarrassing.”
Prosecutors did not ask for a specific number of years in prison in their sentencing memorandum, but said that Weinstein deserves severe punishment to account for allegations dating to the 1970s that didn’t lead to criminal charges.
In their letter, prosecutors outlined 16 examples they said showed Weinstein “trapped women into his exclusive control” so he could sexually assault them, starting when he was working as a music producer in Buffalo in 1978.
Fordham University law professor Cheryl Bader said she expects Judge James Burke to impose a harsh sentence.
“One of the underlying principles of the law of punishment is promoting general deterrence,” Bader said. “I think Judge Burke will want to send a message to ‘would be’ sexual predators that the hammer of the law will come down hard on you if you use your power — physical and otherwise — to manipulate and sexual abuse victims.”
Just as jury selection was about to get under way in the New York case in January, authorities in California announced they were also bringing criminal charges against Weinstein.
Weinstein was charged in California with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb. 18, 2013, after pushing his way inside her room, then sexually assaulting a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night.