Harvey Weinstein lawyers launch attack on Sopranos star Annabella Sciorra, witness in rape case

Weinstein arrives for his sexual assault trial in New York City, Feb 6, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Lawyers for Harvey Weinstein launched their case with an attack on the credibility of Sopranos star Annabella Sciorra, whose powerful account of an alleged rape by Weinstein in the early 1990s was a bulwark of the prosecution.

The defence has not said whether Weinstein will take the stand, but after the prosecution rested its case on Thursday, his lawyers said they would call at least five witnesses.

The first was Paul Feldsher, a former employee of Miramax, the production company Weinstein founded with his brother Bob.

Feldsher is expected to testify that Sciorra told him she had "awkward sex" with Weinstein. Sciorra has denied saying that. Prosecutors have an email in which Weinstein orders a US$60,000 (S$83,000) payment to Feldsher.

Weinstein's lawyers will also seek to call Warren Leight, the director of The Night We Never Met, a Miramax film Sciorra worked on before the alleged rape.

Although she testified that the alleged attack made her fall apart, Leight will testify that she was already "difficult" and showed up on the set drunk.

Weinstein is charged with rape and predatory sexual assault involving two women, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann, whom the Manhattan district attorney claims Weinstein attacked in 2006 and 2013, respectively.

Weinstein maintains that all the sexual encounters were consensual and mutually beneficial as the young women pursued their careers.

After the prosecution rested on Thursday, defence attorney Donna Rotunno asked New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke to dismiss the charges, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support them.

She argued, in part, that it "does not in any way show any forcible act upon Jessica Mann" and that Mann went willingly with Weinstein to his room at the DoubleTree Hotel in Manhattan.

Mann says Weinstein barricaded her in his room and raped her in March 2013.

Burke denied Rotunno's request and directed that Weinstein's team begin calling witnesses when court resumed after the lunch break.

Prosecutors won the right to call Sciorra to buttress their claim that Weinstein was a serial predator, while three other women besides Haley and Mann were allowed to testify that the producer sexually assaulted them.

Haley (formerly Haleyi), a production assistant on Project Runway, testified that the producer forcibly performed oral sex on her.

The trial, in lower Manhattan, has riveted the nation and served as a focal point for the #MeToo movement. It is moving faster than expected. Prospective jurors were warned it could spill into March. Opening statements were Jan 22.

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