Bawling witness disrupts sex trial

People | AGENCIES 5 Feb 2020

A key accuser in the New York City rape trial of Harvey Weinstein broke down in tears on the witness stand during cross-examination over the nature of her relationship with the movie mogul.

The drama, which prompted the judge to send the jury home an hour earlier than usual, came as the defense sought to paint 34-year-old Jessica Mann as an opportunistic manipulator who took advantage of Weinstein while pursuing an acting career, even after he allegedly raped her.

Mann said she tried to make Weinstein "my pseudo father" after a rough upbringing. She said she sent him flattering e-mails and kept seeing him because "I wanted him to believe I wasn't a threat." Mann added: "I was afraid of his unpredictable anger."

She became emotional while reading an e-mail passage about being abused earlier in her life. It was part of a long confessional e-mail she sent to her then-boyfriend in May 2014 about her relationship with Weinstein. She was bawling as she left the courtroom.

She returned after 10 minutes but continued to weep loudly, resting her head on the witness stand and blotting tears with a tissue.

The lead prosecutor tried to console her, but she couldn't continue. Her cross-examination is due to resume.

"I remember the day I realized I was controlling my world because I was sexually assaulted and that story played out where I played into sexual dynamics with people to feel like I would never be taken advantage of again,'' she said before the judge halted the proceedings.

Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno, known for her criticism of the MeToo movement, sought to shoot down Mann's rape allegation by zeroing in on her admission that she also had non-coerced sexual encounters with Weinstein that she said only happened after "a long negotiation."

Even then "I wasn't happy to do it," she said.

"You manipulated Mr Weinstein every single time, isn't that correct?'' Rotunno asked.

Mann responded: "I felt there was an aspect to the way I felt I needed to protect myself that had an element of manipulation.''

At one point, Rotunno shot back: "You made a choice to have sexual encounters with Harvey Weinstein when you weren't sexually attracted to him. You liked the parties and you liked the power.''

Mann told the jury last week that Weinstein trapped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013, and angrily ordered her to undress as he loomed over her, and then raped her.

The second attack came eight months later at a Beverly Hills hotel, where she worked as a hairdresser, after she told Weinstein that she was dating an actor, she said.

"You owe me one more time!'' she said he screamed at her. She said she begged him not to take off her clothes, but he ripped off her pants before pushing her legs apart and raping her.

Mann said she has not testified before a grand jury on that matter and hasn't decided whether to pursue charges, saying she asked California prosecutors "to just give me space until this trial is over.''

Mann was grilled about e-mails that continued after those alleged attacks.

From the e-mails, it appeared Mann was still cutting Weinstein's hair in early 2014. In one January 2014 e-mail, he wrote her: "That's the best haircut and trim I've gotten. I've gotten a million compliments. Thank you.''

She wrote back: "[You're] the one who makes it look good with your smile and beautiful eyes!! But thank you that makes me so happy to hear.''

Rotunno asked Mann whether she was trying to make Weinstein "believe that you cared about him.''

"I did want him to think that I was naive and safe and not a threat," she responded.

"But you're not naive, are you?'' Rotunno said.

"I'm observant but I'm not that smart,'' she replied.

Mann started reading from the e-mail that ended up setting her off, prematurely ending the ninth day of trial testimony.

"Harvey was my father's age and he gave me all the validation I needed at that time," she said as she choked up, adding: "I tried to make him a pseudo father."

Weinstein appeared to be sleeping at times during the testimony, closing his eyes and drooping his head. A juror also dozed off for a spell, prompting a scolding from the judge.

Weinstein is charged in New York with the 2013 rape and also sexually assaulting Mimi Haleyi, a former Project Runway production assistant, in 2006. A conviction could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Weinstein, 67, has insisted that any sexual encounters were consensual.

Mann caused a stir earlier with her description of Weinstein's anatomy, saying she thought he had characteristics of both male and female genitalia, adding that she was "filled with compassion, absolute compassion'' and that "it seemed his anger came from a place of pain.''

Mann offered a similar description in an e-mail to her then-boyfriend: "On the lower half of his body he had some type of surgery or burns." She said she never asked Weinstein what had happened.

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