February 10, 2020 / 11:15 AM / 14 days ago

Weinstein rape trial defense seeks to undermine accusers through their ex-friends

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former friend of Jessica Mann, one of two woman who accuse former movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, testified on Monday that Mann did not seem in distress on the day of the alleged attack and described Weinstein as a “soulmate.”

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges in New York of raping Mann and to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi.

Mann testified earlier in the trial that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room one morning in March 2013. Talita Maia, a former friend of Mann, told jurors that she spent the rest of that day with Mann and she showed no sign of distress.

Maia said she was testifying against her wishes under a subpoena from Weinstein’s lawyers.

Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

The former producer, who was behind films including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied any nonconsensual sex.

His trial is a milestone for the #MeToo movement in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.

Mann previously testified that the rape occurred in the course of an “extremely degrading” relationship with Weinstein that lasted for years.

Maia testified that Mann “spoke highly” of Weinstein during the relationship, even calling him her “spiritual soulmate” at one point.

“She seemed to really like him as a person,” Maia said. Under cross-examination by prosecutors, Maia said she had a falling out with Mann some time before January 2017 and stopped speaking to her, though she said she did not dislike her.

Maia also said during questioning by prosecutors that Mann had once told her Weinstein was “controlling.” She said Mann had told her she was very upset when Weinstein pressured her to engage in a sexual act with another woman, which Mann had also described.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein leaves Criminal Court during his sexual assault trial in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

In response to follow-up questioning by Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, Maia denied that her falling out with Mann had anything to do with her testimony.

“I did not want to be here at all,” she said.

The defense here then called another witness, Mexican-born social media influencer Claudia Salinas, who was friendly with another one of Weinstein's accusers, Lauren Young.

Young testified that Salinas stood outside a Los Angeles hotel bathroom door while Weinstein assaulted her, which Salinas flatly denied.

“That never happened,” she said.

Under cross-examination by prosecutors, Salinas conceded that when she first spoke to investigators, she said she remembered nothing about the day in question.

Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast asked Salinas whether she remembered telling investigators that while she did not recall, the incident “could have happened.”

“If I said that, I was suggesting that it could have happened but that doesn’t mean that I was there,” she said.

Hast also asked Salinas whether she brought her “better looking friends” to meet Weinstein at the producers’ request.

“All my friends are good looking,” Salinas answered, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

New York prosecutors have not charged Weinstein with any crime against Young, but called her to testify as evidence of the producer’s intent. Los Angeles prosecutors have charged Weinstein with assaulting of Young.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Prosecutors rested their case last Thursday after jurors heard testimony from six women accusing Weinstein of sexual assault, including Mann, Mimi Haleyi and Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein raped her in her home in the early 1990s.

Lawyers are expected to deliver their closing arguments by the end of the week, setting the stage for jurors to begin deliberating next week.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool

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