Harvey Weinstein’s rape and sexual assault trial began in earnest in New York on Wednesday, with the defence expected to detail “loving” emails between the once-mighty movie producer and his accusers.
A frail-looking Weinstein, 67, walked slowly into the court premises, but without the walking frame, he has used for recent proceedings.
He faces life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault charges related to two women in a case seen as key to the #MeToo movement.
In opening arguments, prosecutors will argue that the former Miramax Films boss was a sexual predator who made a career out of abusing women trying to make their way in Hollywood.
Weinstein’s attorneys will try to convince the court that his two accusers engaged in consensual relationships with the defendant and only later claimed the incidents were forced.
Lawyer Damon Cheronis said Tuesday the defence had “dozens” of emails sent by the women to Weinstein which undermine claims of non-consensual sex.
Justice James Burke ruled that the defence team could cite these emails in its opening arguments, dealing a blow to the prosecution which had objected to their inclusion.
“What we will counter with are their own words, their own words where they described loving relationships,” Cheronis told the court, US media reported.
On Wednesday, about 100 reporters waited in line from dawn to secure a prized seat in the Manhattan Criminal Court.
Weinstein is accused of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in his New York apartment in July 2006.
An unidentified woman says Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013.
The prosecution will call four other accusers to the stand as it tries to convince the 12-member jury that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour.
Supporting witnesses will include “The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein raped her in the winter of 1993-94.
The identity of three other alleged victims, including one who says she was raped by Weinstein in California in 2013, is unknown.
High-profile women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who represents two women involved in the trial, has said the accusers must prepare for a “brutal cross-examination.”
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon is leading the prosecution, while Chicago lawyer Donna Rotunno, who has defended numerous men accused of sexual assault, leads the defence.
More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since claims against him ignited the #MeToo movement in October 2017.
But many of the alleged crimes fall outside the timeframe for bringing charges.
Seven men and five women make up the jury in the trial which is expected to run until March 6.
The defence was successful in keeping young white women — viewed as sympathetic to the #MeToo movement — off the jury, following an acrimonious two-week selection process.