By MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction and 23-year prison sentence, rejecting the movie mogul’s claim that the judge at his landmark #MeToo trial prejudiced him by letting women testify about allegations that weren’t part of the criminal case.
The ruling by a five-judge panel in the state’s intermediate appeals court affirmed one of the highest-profile verdicts to date in America’s reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful figures — an era that began with a flood of allegations against Weinstein.
Weinstein’s publicist, Juda Engelmayer, said he is reviewing his options and will seek to appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised,” Engelmayer said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office in January while Weinstein’s appeal was pending, said in a statement that prosecutors were “gratified by today’s decision, which upholds a monumental conviction that changed the way prosecutors and courts approach complex prosecutions of sexual predators.”
Weinstein, 70, was convicted in New York in February 2020 of forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006 and raping an aspiring actress in 2013. He was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from actor Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of a mid-1990s rape.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people alleging sexual assault unless they consent to be named; Sciorra has spoken publicly about her allegations.
Weinstein is jailed in California, where he was extradited last year and is awaiting trial on charges he assaulted five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013.
Former District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who oversaw Weinstein’s prosecution, told The Associated Press he has always had confidence in the strength of the case. He said he was confident that trial judge James Burke’s rulings were fair and would be sustained on appeal.
“I am also grateful this decision by the appellate court fully credits the powerful testimony of the brave and strong survivors of Mr. Weinstein’s abuse,” Vance said. “Today, they are one step closer to full closure of the legal process, which they deserve.”
The ruling upholding Weinstein’s conviction came in the wake of several setbacks for women seeking to hold celebrity men accountable for alleged wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, a Virginia jury found that Amber Heard’s abuse allegations against Johnny Depp were defamatory. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal after a Pennsylvania court threw out Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction.
In Weinstein’s case, the appeals court took an unusually long time to rule — posting its decision on the brink of summer, nearly six months after a contentious round of oral arguments last December that stoked doubts about whether his conviction would stand. The court had been expected to rule in January.
At the hearing, some judges were critical of Burke and prosecutors and suggested they were open to possibly reversing Weinstein’s conviction and ordering a new trial. Judge Sallie Manzanet-Daniels was particularly vocal, saying Burke had allowed prosecutors to pile on with “incredibly prejudicial testimony” from the additional witnesses.
But, in the 45-page ruling Thursday, the five judges were unanimous in finding that Burke had properly exercised his discretion in allowing prosecutors to bolster their case with testimony from three women who accused Weinstein of violated them but whose claims did not lead to charges in the New York case.
The judges also concurred with Burke’s decision clearing the way for prosecutors to confront Weinstein with evidence about other, unrelated misbehavior if he had testified, including whether he had left a colleague by the side of the road in a foreign country, told people to lie to his wife, or screamed at restaurant staff while demanding a late-night meal.
The judges, in their ruling, said that although the volume of material — pertaining to 28 alleged acts of abusive, boorish behavior over 30 years — was “unquestionably large, and, at first blush, perhaps appears to be troublingly so,” Burke properly exercised his discretion in weighing its relevance to the case.
The panel also rejected Weinstein’s argument that Burke was wrong in other ways: by allowing a woman who had written a novel involving predatory older men to remain on the jury, and by letting prosecutors have an expert on victim behavior and rape myths testify. Burke did not allow testimony on similar subjects from defense experts.
Rules on calling additional witnesses to testify about “prior bad acts” vary by state and were an issue in Cosby’s successful appeal of his sexual assault conviction in Pennsylvania. New York’s rules, shaped by a decision in a 1901 poisoning case, are among the more restrictive.
At the December appeals court hearing, Weinstein’s lawyers argued the extra testimony went beyond what’s normally allowed — detailing motive, opportunity, intent or a common scheme or plan — and essentially put the ex-studio boss on trial for crimes he wasn’t charged with and hadn’t had an opportunity to defend himself against.
Burke’s ruling allowing prosecutors to use stories from Weinstein’s past to attack his credibility essentially handcuffed his defense and worked to prevent him from taking the witness stand, Weinstein lawyer Barry Kamins told the appellate panel at the December hearing.
“The jury was overwhelmed by such prejudicial, bad evidence,” Kamins argued. “This was a trial of Harvey Weinstein’s character. The people were making him out to be a bad person.”
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak
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