‘Master of his universe’: Weinstein saw women as disposable, prosecutor says

  • Joan Illuzzi-Orbon stresses movie mogul’s power imbalance
  • Prosecution makes closing arguments in rape trial

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon gives her closing arguments in front of Judge James Burke at New York criminal court in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial on Friday.




Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon gives her closing arguments in front of Judge James Burke at New York criminal court in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial on Friday.
Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who was a “master of his universe”, stepped on, demoralised, humiliated and ultimately abused and raped “disposable” women he tricked into his lair, a prosecutor told the jury on Friday in closing arguments at his New York rape trial.

But Weinstein also made a basic mistake, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said. He “not only ran roughshod over the dignity of these witnesses, he also underestimated them”.

“He made sure he had contact with them,” Illuzzi-Orbon said, “so that they wouldn’t one day walk out of the shadows and call him exactly what he was: an abusive rapist.

“He was wrong.”

Over more than three hours at the New York supreme court, Illuzzi-Orbon made her final pitch to the jury to find Weinstein guilty of charges that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

She portrayed the producer of such Oscar-winning favourites as Pulp Fiction and The King’s Speech as a callous man who showed a “wanton lack of human empathy” towards the six women who have testified against him.

Mimicking the defendant, the prosecutor said: “The universe is run by me and they don’t get to complain when they get stepped on, spat on, demoralised and yes raped and abused by me – the king.”

Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women but in court he faces five counts: two of rape alleged to have occurred against an aspiring actor in 2013, one that he forced oral sex on a then Project Runway producer, Miriam Haley, in 2006, and two of predatory sexual assault that claim a pattern of attacks on multiple victims.

He has denied all claims of non-consensual sex.

The charges relate to two central accusers: the woman who alleges she was raped, who the Guardian is not naming as she has not indicated that she wishes to be publicly identified, and Haley. Four other women – the Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff and Lauren Young – also testified.

Illuzzi-Orbon repeatedly returned to the vast imbalance of power between Weinstein, “the master of his universe”, and alleged victims she characterised as “ants he could step on without consequences”.

She kept referring to one phrase, like a mantra: “Harvey Weinstein everything, witness nothing.”

Weinstein was worried from the beginning about Sciorra, who was already a movie star by the time he allegedly raped her in her Manhattan apartment in the winter of 1993-94, Illuzzi-Orbon said.

“Annabella is in his industry, she’s having dinner and talking to Uma Thurman who dates Gary Oldman.”

But the remaining five accusers, she said, were nobodies.

“They were never in his world, they were never going to be strong enough, bold enough or brave enough to tell.”

Harvey Weinstein, left, leaves a Manhattan courthouse after closing arguments in his rape trial in New York.


Harvey Weinstein leaves a Manhattan courthouse after closing arguments in his rape trial in New York. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

To make sure his crimes were not exposed, the prosecutor said, Weinstein humiliated the women.

“Stupid and belittled people do not complain, they don’t stick up for themselves and they sure as hell don’t complain about their shame in a public place like a courtroom.”

He kept them isolated, Illuzzi-Orbon said, convincing them they were the only ones going through the alleged abuse.

“When you’re the only one and he’s a giant not only in his own industry but he’s someone who gets presidents on the phone, you know what, you do not report and you do not go to the police.”

And, the prosecutor said, he cowed them with his anger. Illuzzi-Orbon compared the strikingly similar language two accusers used to describe alleged confrontations two decades apart.

Sciorra said: “It was very menacing. His eyes went black.”

The anonymous victim of the alleged 2013 rape testified: “His eyes changed … They were very black.”

The prosecutor returned to the theme of eyes – this time referring to those of the women – when she said: “Maybe his kink was the fear in their eyes.”

Illuzzi-Orbon dedicated long passages of her speech to the question that lies at the heart of this case: how women who claim Weinstein sexually attacked them continued to have close and in some cases sexual relations with him long after the alleged assault.

On Thursday, lead Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno portrayed the six accusers as the manipulators in the case, recasting the movie mogul as their victim.

Rotunno produced a welter of emails and text messages between the witnesses and the movie producer that for some went on for years.

“Miss you big guy,” the accuser who alleges rape wrote to Weinstein six months later.

“Not words you say to your rapist,” Rotunno told the jury.

The rape charges relating to the unnamed aspiring actor have been a particular target of Weinstein’s defence team. Rotunno gave the witness such a grilling over nine hours of cross-examination that the woman collapsed into a panic attack.

Illuzzi-Orbon was at her most impassioned when she rebutted defence criticisms of the accusers. She ridiculed the suggestion Sciorra had come forward as a way of reviving her career.

“How marketable do you think it makes her to come here in this courtroom in front of the entire world and admit to having been in such pain?” the prosecutor asked.

“How good is it for a movie star that [after the alleged rape] she cut herself and then dabbed the blood with tissue, smearing it on the wall?”

As for the anonymous rape accuser, Illuzzi-Orbon said, she was not in a loving consensual relationship with Weinstein, as Rotunno claimed.

“Where are the gifts, where the jewellery, where the vacations, where the cars, where are all those things – they don’t exist. This was not a relationship, this was Harvey Weinstein’s playgirl.”

The case will continue on Tuesday, when the jury is expected to be sent out.

  • In the US, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673 or by chat at Rainn.org. In the UK, the rape crisis national freephone helpline is at 0808-802-9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800-737-7328) or 1800respect.org.au. Other international helplines can be found at Ibiblio.org.

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