NEW YORK (Reuters) - The jury in former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial began deliberations on Tuesday on charges that could send him to prison for life, in a case that has become a milestone for the #MeToo movement.
The Manhattan jury of seven men and five women began their discussions after the judge hearing the case warned Weinstein’s lead defense lawyer, Donna Rotunno, against talking to the press until jurors have reached a verdict.
The warning came two days after the attorney wrote an opinion piece about the case in Newsweek magazine.
“I would caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut,” Justice James Burke told Rotunno.
Rotunno told Burke that the opinion piece, published on Saturday and titled “Jurors in my client Harvey Weinstein’s case must look past the headlines,” was not intended to address the jury directly.
“This is an op-ed about the jury system as a whole, about the criminal justice system as a whole,” she said.
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi asked Burke to revoke Weinstein’s bail and jail him, saying he must have approved the Newsweek opinion piece, which she said “borders on tampering with the jury.” The judge did not act on the request.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013.
Weinstein faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
A unanimous verdict is needed for a conviction.
Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Weinstein, who was behind films including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
The allegations fueled the #MeToo movement, in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.
After deliberating for less than an hour, the jury sent a note asking for clarification of their legal instructions, which Burke provided.
Later in the afternoon, they requested exhibits, including a blueprint of the apartment where Weinstein allegedly assaulted Haleyi and a 2017 email he sent to a private investigator with a list of women highlighted as “red flags.”
The list included Annabella Sciorra, who testified that Weinstein entered her apartment one winter night in 1993 or 1994 and raped her. The accusation is too old to be charged as a separate crime, but it could act as an aggravating factor to support a charge of predatory sexual assault.
Prosecutors have said the email is evidence that Weinstein tried to prevent Sciorra and other accusers from going public with their accusations.
Last week, jurors heard closing arguments from lawyers on both sides. Defense attorney Rotunno argued that the encounters had been consensual, pointing to friendly communications from the women to Weinstein after they were allegedly assaulted. She assailed the credibility of the accusers and urged the jury to put aside their emotions and use common sense in evaluating the evidence.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi urged jurors to convict Weinstein, saying the once-powerful producer used his position in the film industry to prey on women and that those who testified against him had no reason to lie.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis