NEW YORK — A second day of testimony in Harvey Weinstein’s sex-crimes trial began Thursday with the first accuser to take the stand, Annabella Sciorra, the “Sopranos” actress who choked up as she described how Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment in the winter of 1993-94 and later told her in a “threatening” way not to tell anyone.
As she began testifying, Sciorra, 59, was composed, spoke clearly and even chuckled when asked questions by Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi about her early years trying to break into the entertainment industry.
She later had trouble speaking when she described what she says Weinstein did to her in her Gramercy Park apartment one night after dinner with a group including Weinstein at an Irish restaurant.
She said Weinstein offered to drop her off at her apartment after dinner. She prepared for bed and then heard a knock on the door.
“(Weinstein) was there and pushed the door open, so I didn’t have an opportunity to know why he was there,” she said. “Then he started to unbutton his shirt, and then I realized that in his head, he wanted to have sex and I didn’t want to…I realized what he wanted was pretty obvious, so I started to back up into my bathroom….I felt very overpowered because he was very big.”
She said he grabbed her just above her chest, led her into the bedroom and shoved her on the bed.
“I was punching him, I was kicking him, I was trying to get him away from me,” she said, “He got on top of me and he raped me….He had intercourse with me and I was trying to fight him, but I couldn’t fight anymore because he had my hands locked (over her head).”
Then, she said, he performed oral sex on her against her will, but “I didn’t have much fight left in me at that point. I said, ‘no, no,’ but my body shut down.”
She choked up, speaking slowly, stuttering a bit as she described her disgust and how her body began to shake. “It was shaking like a seizure or something.”
She said Weinstein got up and walked out. “I’m not sure if I fainted or fell asleep or blacked out, but I woke up on the floor with my nightgown kind of up and I didn’t know if something else had happened,” she said.
She said she was not drunk that night, nor had she taken Valium or any other drug that night.
“Afterwards, I wanted to pretend it never happened. Because I wanted to get back to my life,” Sciorra said, choking up again. She didn’t call the police, she said; why not? Another long pause. She said she didn’t know if what happened was a crime.
“I thought he was a nice person. I thought he was an OK guy,” she said. “I felt confused. I felt like I wished I had never opened the door….I felt at the time that rape happened in a back alleyway by somebody you (didn’t know.)”
She said she confronted Weinstein at a restaurant two to six weeks later.
“I tried to talk to him about what happened and I told him how I woke up and that I’d blacked out, and he said, ‘that’s what all the nice Catholic girls say,’ ” she said.
“And then he leaned into me and said, ‘This remains between you and I.’ It was very menacing, his eyes were black, and I thought he was going to hit me right there. It was threatening and I was afraid,” she said.
She began crying as she described how she tried to resume her life, but withdrew from friends and from going out. She didn’t tell her friends or family about the encounter. She began drinking and began to cut herself.
“I had this wall that was white, and then I began to paint it like a blood-red color with tubes of oil paint. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I used to cut myself and put the blood from my hands and fingers into this masterpiece,” she said, crying harder.
“I wanted (friends and family) to protect me… but I didn’t tell them what happened,” she said. “I really wanted somebody in my family but I didn’t want to tell my parents….It was hard to talk about.”
Weinstein is not charged with a crime in connection with Sciorra’s allegation, because it’s too old to prosecute under the statute of limitations. But the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is offering her testimony to bolster the “predatory” charges against Weinstein, which can increase prison time if he’s convicted.
New York law requires prosecutors to prove Weinstein assaulted more than one person to be defined as a predator; Sciorra is an insurance witness in case the jury does not believe the two women whose allegations are the basis of the five charges against him.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with five sex crimes, including rape and sexual assault, stemming from encounters with two women, including Jessica Mann in 2013 and another woman, Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi, in 2006.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has denied all non-consensual sex. He also has been charged with similar sex crimes in Los Angeles; that case is on hold until the New York case is resolved. The trial, which opened on Jan. 6, is expected to last two months.
On Wednesday, after the jury had been dismissed, Weinstein’s lawyers complained that the jury had been “poisoned” by the prosecution’s opening statement. It described Weinstein as a “predatory monster,” and included showing a picture of him posing with former President Bill Clinton.
The defense asked Judge James Burke to “start again” with a new jury. Burke denied the motion. Defense lawyers also sought a mistrial, arguing that it was wrong for prosecutors to ask a witness to describe Weinstein’s appearance and personal characteristics. Burke denied that motion as well.
Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast’s opening statement offered a scathing description of the fallen movie mogul that included labeling him a rapist.
The defense team followed with Damon Cheronis, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, reading what he called friendly text messages and emails exchanged between Weinstein and some accusers after the alleged sexual assaults.
“At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear, that the man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, but a rapist,” Hast said. “(He used) his power and prestige in the entertainment industry to ensure (accusers’) silence. … Although they’re strangers to one another, they’ll each describe to you their shame and humiliation following their violent encounters with the defendant.”
At times while Hast spoke, Weinstein shrugged at his legal team, shook his head or stared at the jury.
Cheronis began his opening by rejecting Hast’s characterization of Weinstein. He delved into emails and texts exchanged between Weinstein and some of his accusers, including Mann, one of two complaining witnesses, who says Weinstein raped her in her New York hotel room in March 2013.
Cheronis said Mann exchanged multiple friendly messages with Weinstein immediately and years after the alleged rape, telling him she “loved him” at one point and describing him as her “casual boyfriend” in a note entry on her phone.
He said Mann and prosecutors “want to have it both ways. … You can’t say ‘I’m afraid of this man and trying to get away from him,’ and then turn around and ask him to spend time with you.”
These exchanges are expected to be a major issue at the trial, with the defense arguing they show some accusers had “friendly, even loving” relationships with Weinstein after alleged assaults.
The prosecution is expected to introduce expert witnesses who will testify that this is not uncommon behavior by accusers after a sexual assault.