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Harvey Weinstein trial: witness details complex relationship with ex-producer

The dramatic rape trial of Harvey Weinstein continued on Tuesday with the cross-examination of an accuser who suffered a panic attack under questioning the day before.

The 34-year-old witness alleges she was violently raped twice by the film producer in 2013. Her claims form a central pillar of the prosecution’s case.

The Guardian is not naming the witness because she has not indicated publicly if she is happy to be identified.

Her time in the witness stand was cut short on Monday afternoon after Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lead lawyer, instructed her to read an email she wrote to her boyfriend in May 2014 about her relationship with Weinstein. The witness began to cry uncontrollably.

By lunchtime on Tuesday the woman had been through several hours of cross-examination by Rotunno, who has tried to paint her as a serial liar who manipulated Weinstein, 67, in order to advance her career in the film industry.

The witness described Weinstein as the manipulative one. She said she looked up to him like a father figure and had a complex relationship with him, in which she would be on the receiving end of his fluctuating emotions. She said he raped her twice, though she and Weinstein also had a number of consensual sexual encounters.

The charges against Weinstein stem from this accusation and that of Miriam Haley, who has testified that he assaulted her in 2006. Weinstein faces five counts: two of rape, one of forcibly performing oral sex on a woman and two of predatory sexual assault. Facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, he has denied all charges.

Rotunno is a veteran attorney of sexual assault cases known for aggressively defending men accused of assault. Her hardline tactics could be seen throughout her cross-examination of the second witness.

“You manipulated Mr Weinstein every single time you saw him, isn’t that correct?” she said, in a barrage of questioning on Monday. “Every time you engaged in consensual sexual encounters with him you manipulated him, isn’t that correct? You made him feel you wanted sexual relations with him.”

The witness replied: “No, that is not correct.”

On Tuesday morning, the witness walked into court looking dazed, her eyes puffy, a bright orange stress ball in her hand. Throughout the morning her responses were soft, mumbled into a microphone.

The defense continued to paint a picture of a transactional relationship where the witness agreed to meet Weinstein and initiated meetings herself. In return, it said, Weinstein invited her to exclusive premieres and parties.

Rotunno showed for the jury several friendly emails between Weinstein and the witness from 2014 through 2016. They showed the witness reaching out multiple times, asking if Weinstein was in Los Angeles and wanted to meet up. Weinstein’s responses, Rotunno noted, were cordial.

She pointed two instances documented by email in which the witness went to Weinstein for help. In the first she asked if he could help her and her “boss” get a membership at Soho House, a members-only club in New York. In the other instance, the witness reached out regarding trouble she was having with her car registration.

“So the person you wanted to sponsor you to this exclusive club is your rapist?” Rotunno asked.

The witness turned to the jury and said: “I do want [you] to know that he is my rapist and I can continue to explain.”

Rotunno also brought up occasions where Weinstein invited the witness to parties for award shows and premieres. Emails from the witness showed she accepted invitations and asked to bring friends.

Before the witness took the stand, Emanuela Postacchini, an actor based in Los Angeles, was called to testify. Though brief, her testimony gave insight into a situation the main witness described on Friday, when Weinstein allegedly tried to coerce her into a threesome at a New York hotel.

The main witness said Weinstein invited her to a hotel room where, after a short period, Postacchini was brought in too. Weinstein asked them both to undress and began telling them what to do.

The witness described how, upon seeing how uncomfortable Postacchini seemed, she ran into the bathroom and began to “crying and crying and I was completely overwhelmed by it”. She said Postacchini ran after her to console her.

Postachinni said she could not recall any details about what Weinstein asked them to do, but said she remembered the witness “was in a fetal position on the ground, crying” and recalled trying to console her. She said she did not remember what happened after that.

Damon Cheronis, a Weinstein lawyer, asked if the situation was “forced”. Postacchini paused and said the situation was not forced.

She later said that while it was not forced, she felt she had been “manipulated” because she was invited to the hotel room and did not expect to see another woman there.

“I felt tricked by that,” Postacchini said.

In response, Cheronis showed the jury emails Postacchini sent Weinstein, showing the two had remained amicable.

The case continues.

Additional reporting by Ed Pilkington

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